Body weight is a major risk determinant of frailty, but the effect of obesity on frailty is controversial. The present study aimed to confirm the hypothesis that the risk of frailty is positively associated with obesity (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2), but the association is mediated by the waist:height ratio (WHtR) in older women and men. A total of 2862 community-dwelling older individuals aged 70–84 years were assessed for frailty using the Korean version of Fatigue, Resistance, Ambulation, Illnesses, and Loss of weight index. Obesity (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2) was associated with a higher risk of frailty compared with BMI 18·5–<23 kg/m2 in all the older individuals (OR 1·88; 95 % CI 1·11, 3·17; P = 0·018) and in older women (OR 1·86; 95 % CI 1·01, 3·42; P = 0·047) before adjusting for WHtR but was not associated with BMI after adjusting for WHtR. Additionally, obesity was not significantly associated with the risk of frailty before and after adjusting for WHtR in older men. Mediation analysis revealed that the association between BMI and frailty score was mediated by WHtR. Moreover, the mediating effect of WHtR on frailty score was positive in both women and men, but the frailty score was associated with BMI positively in women and negatively in men. The present study suggests that the risk of frailty is higher in obese women, which is mediated by WHtR, but not in obese men.