OBJECTIVE: To characterize the risk profile for atherosclerosis (AS) in adolescents and young adults of a private university in São Paulo. METHODS: Clinical, nutritional, and laboratory parameters were evaluated in 209 students of both genders aged 17 to 25 years. In addition to determination of the lipid profile, the association of its abnormal values with other risk factors for AS was also investigated. RESULTS: Increased levels of total cholesterol, LDL-C and triglycerides (TG) were observed in 9.1%, 7.6% and 16.3% of the students, respectively, and decreased levels of HDL-C in 8.6% of them. Prevalence of the remaining risk factors analyzed was elevated: sedentary life style (78.9%); high intake of total fat (77.5%); high cholesterol intake (35.9%); smoking, hypertension (15.8%) and obesity (7.2%). There was an association between elevated LDL-C and TG levels and sedentary life style and body mass index. CONCLUSION: The high prevalence of risk factors for AS in young individuals draws attention to the need for adopting preventive plans.