Whether or not C-reactive protein (CRP) predicts heart disease in adults because it is a marker of damage or atherosclerosis is difficult to assess. In children, there is no confounding with coronary disease or active smoking. We measured CRP in 699 children aged 10-11 years. CRP levels were 47% higher in girls than boys, and rose with age by 15%/year. CRP levels were 270% (95% CI, 155-439%) higher in the top fifth than the bottom fifth of Ponderal index (weight/height(3)). After adjustment, CRP levels remained 104% (95% CI, 23-236%) higher in the 56 children of South Asian origin. CRP was unrelated to: birth weight, height, social class, Helicobacter pylori infection or passive smoke exposure. CRP was correlated with several cardiovascular risk factors, but only fibrinogen (r = 0.33, P = 0.0001), HDL-cholesterol (r = -0.13, P = 0.0006), heart rate (r = 0.12, P = 0.002) and systolic blood pressure (r = 0.08, P = 0.02) remained statistically significant after adjustment. We conclude that adiposity is the major determinant of CRP levels in children while physical fitness has a small independent effect. The strong relationships with fibrinogen and HDL-cholesterol suggest a role for inflammation throughout life in the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether these associations reflect long term elevations of these risk factors in some individuals, or short term fluctuations in different individuals.