Summary Selected characteristics of the social environment are tested as predictors of children's risk for obesity. Data were collected during the summer of 1991 at the University of South Alabama Springhill Paediatric Clinic (Mobile, AL, USA). Data were collected on 77 children, aged 2·5–5 years, and their primary caretaker. Obesity risk was measured by the child's weight for height score and calorie intake. Caretaker's socio-economic status, marital status, and social support predict children's obesity risk for this sample. Lower social class position, lower expressive social support, and unmarried status of the caretaker are associated with a higher calorie intake and a higher weight for height score in the child.