Abstract Background Insulin resistance, obesity, dyslipidemia, and high blood pressure characterize the metabolic syndrome. In an effort to explore the utility of different multivariate methods of data reduction to better understand the genetic influences on the aggregation of metabolic syndrome phenotypes, we calculated phenotypic, genetic, and genome-wide LOD score correlation matrices using five traits (total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, and body mass index) from the Framingham Heart Study data set prepared for the Genetic Analysis Workshop 13, clinic visits 10 and 1 for the original and offspring cohorts, respectively. We next applied factor analysis to summarize the relationship between these phenotypes. Results Factors generated from the genetic correlation matrix explained the most variation. Factors extracted using the other matrices followed a different pattern and suggest distinct effects. Conclusions Given these results, different methods of multivariate data reduction may provide unique clues on the clustering of this complex syndrome.