Atopy is common and the prevalence amongst children is rising. Measurements in early childhood that can predict subsequent development of atopy could be clinically useful for targeting preventive measures. We used the Children in Focus (CiF) subgroup of a large population-based birth cohort study (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) to investigate whether total immunoglobulin E (IgE) measured at 12 and 18 months could predict subsequent development of atopy at 5 yr of age. Atopy was determined by positive skin prick test (≥3 mm wheal) to one or more of 14 inhalant and food allergens. Prevalence of skin prick positivity to any allergen was 14.5% (104 of 715; 95% CI: 12.0–17.1%). Total IgE levels were significantly higher at 12 months of age (p < 0.0005) but not 18 months of age in those children subsequently atopic. The highest positive predictive value was 41% with an IgE measurement of >51 kU/l, with a sensitivity of 13.5% and a specificity of 95.8%. Although significant differences in early life IgE measurements were seen, the extent of overlap was great, such that the overall performance of IgE at 12 months as a screening test for atopy was poor.