AIMS/HYPOTHESIS: The aim of this study was to examine the relationship among sedentary behaviour (SB) and the metabolic syndrome and its components by age, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sex. METHODS: A cross-sectional analysis was performed on 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 5,076 adults aged ≥18 years (mean ± SD = 43.8 ± 19.5). SB was measured using ActiGraph accelerometers worn for 1 week and defined as <100 counts/min. Metabolic syndrome was defined using the Adult Treatment Panel III criteria. Natural cubic spline logistic regression models were used to estimate the odds of meeting criteria for the metabolic syndrome and its components by total daily SB time and breaks in SB. Statistical interactions between SB and age, sex and MVPA were explored. RESULTS: The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome was 19% and the average daily SB time was 8.1 ± 2.8 h, with 90 ± 25 breaks/day. The relationship between daily SB time and the metabolic syndrome was linear and characterised by an OR of 1.09 (95% CI 1.01, 1.18) for each hour of SB. Total SB was associated with the following components: high triacylglycerol, low HDL-cholesterol and high fasting glucose. All three associations were modified by MVPA level. No relationship between breaks in SB and the metabolic syndrome was found. CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION: There appears to be no SB threshold at which the risk of the metabolic syndrome is elevated. Therefore, an effort should be made to maintain low levels of total time spent in SB and so lessen the risk of the metabolic syndrome.