Lower birth weight is associated with an increased occurrence of type 2 diabetes in later life. Whether this relationship is explained by environmental or genetic factors is unknown. We have examined the potential for genetic influences by determining whether parental diabetes is associated with lower birth weight in 1,608 children of known birth weight and gestational age born between 1941 and 1993 in the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. The previously described relationships of maternal diabetes to increased birth weight and offspring diabetes were observed. In contrast to this we have determined novel relationships between low birth weight and paternal diabetes. The offspring of diabetic fathers were, on average, 78 g lighter than the offspring of nondiabetic fathers. For fathers, lower birth weight in their offspring was associated with an increased risk of later diabetes, i.e., fathers of offspring in the lowest quintile of birth weight, who were not diabetic at the time of birth of their child, had a 1.8-fold increased risk of developing diabetes later in life (95% CI 1.2-2.7; P = 0.004). For children, lower birth weight predicted diabetes in the offspring if paternal but not maternal diabetes was present, but it was not associated with higher plasma glucose if neither parent had diabetes. We conclude that the risk of diabetes associated with low birth weight is strongly related to the development of paternal diabetes, suggesting a genetic link between lower birth weight and later diabetes.