Abstract Background The effect of age on common carotid artery diameter is unclear for varying atherosclerosis risk levels. Methods Cross-sectional data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Limited Access Data set were used to estimate the association of age with B-mode ultrasound common carotid artery diameter for three atherosclerosis risk levels. Based on information from clinical examinations, B-mode ultrasounds, questionnaires, blood and other tests, participants were categorized into three groups: pre-existing disease (prevalent stroke and/or coronary heart disease), high risk group (no pre-existing disease, but prevalent diabetes, hypertension, plaques/shadowing, body mass index >= 30, current smoking, or hyperlipidemia), and a low risk group (no pre-existing disease, no plaques/shadowing, and no major elevated risk factors). Multivariable linear regression analyses modeled the common carotid artery diameter relationship with age. Results Age was positively and significantly associated with common carotid artery diameter after risk factor adjustment in the overall sample, but age had a larger effect among persons with evidence of atherosclerosis (interaction p < 0.05). Each year of older age was associated with 0.03 mm larger diameter/year among persons with pre-existing disease, with 0.027 mm larger diameter/year in the high risk group, but only 0.017 mm/year among the low risk group. Results were qualitatively similar using plaques/shadowing status to indicate atherosclerosis severity. Conclusion The significant impact of age on common carotid artery diameter among low risk, middle-aged, black and white men and women suggests arterial remodelling may occur in the absence of identified risk factors. The significantly larger impact of age among persons with, compared to persons without identified atherosclerosis or its risk factors, suggests that arterial remodelling may be an indicator of exposure duration.