BACKGROUND: We aimed to evaluate the association between renal function and various cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, as well as 5-year incidence of CVD, in a sample of CVD free adults. METHODS: (i) Cross-sectional information from n = 1975. Greek men and women (>18 years) without CVD and hypertension at baseline examination and (ii) 5-year (2001-06) survival data from n = 2101 individuals without CVD at baseline, all participants in the ATTICA study, were analysed in this work. Kidney function was quantified by the baseline estimated creatinine clearance rate (C(cr)), using the Cockcroft-Gault formula and the National Kidney Foundation recommendations. Outcome of interest was the development of CVD that was defined according to WHO-ICD-10 criteria. RESULTS: At baseline, the prevalence of moderate-to-severe renal dysfunction (i.e. C(cr) < 60) was 2.8% in males and 7.7% in females. Physical activity status, cigarette smoking, hypercholesterolemia and homocysteine levels and greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet were inversely associated with C(cr) rate (P < 0.05), while no association was found with history of diabetes. During the 5-year follow-up, people with moderate-to-severe renal dysfunction as compared with normal, had 3.21 times higher CVD risk [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.98-5.19], after adjusting for history of hypertension (hazard ratio = 2.15, 95% CI 1.48-3.11), hypercholesterolemia (1.37, 0.98-1.98), diabetes (3.28, 2.15-5.00), smoking habits (0.89, 0.60-1.32) and physical activity status (0.86, 0.56-1.21). CONCLUSION: Renal function seems to be associated with the levels of lifestyle and bio-clinical CVD risk factors and contribute to the long-term incidence of cardiac events. Public health care practitioners should take into account renal function in better preventing the burden of CVD at individual, and population level, as well.