BACKGROUND: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disability in the world. Many cardiovascular risk factors can be prevented. We assessed whether socio-economic factors are associated with individual preventive behaviours in Italy. METHODS: A cross-sectional analysis of a nationally representative sample of 47,391 adults aged 40-69 years was undertaken using 2004-05 National Health Interview Survey data. Logistic regression models were developed to assess the association between socio-economic status (SES) and regular monitoring of blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and glycaemia. SES was estimated according to education and occupation. RESULTS: SES was significantly associated with regular monitoring of risk factors for CVD. The most educated were more likely to monitor cholesterol levels than those with less education [men odds ratio (OR) 1.64, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.46-1.86; women OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.19-1.55]. Individuals in the highest occupational class controlled weight more frequently than those disadvantaged with an OR of 1.24 (95% CI 1.04-1.49) for men and an OR of 1.26 (95% CI 1.12-1.42) for women. CONCLUSION: Socio-economic disparities in the prevention of risk factors for CVD were clearly observed among Italian adults, generally favouring higher socio-economic groups.