The aim of the present study was to compare the differences in dietary and non-dietary factors contributing to normal weight and overweight among urban Chinese adults. Two cross-sectional population surveys were carried out in Tianjin, one of the largest cities in China. A total of 2631 subjects aged 25-64 years were selected by random stratified cluster sampling; 398 men and 490 women were overweight, and 886 men and 857 women were of normal weight. The diet was assessed by food weighing plus consecutive individual 3 d food records. Health-related behaviours and anthropometry were assessed. The overweight group had significantly higher mean daily intakes of energy and carbohydrate than the normal-weight group. Overweight men also had significantly higher mean daily intakes of protein and fat than normal-weight men. Age, daily intakes of energy and carbohydrate, and marital status were positively associated with overweight, while occupational and commuting physical activity, as well as smoking, were inversely associated with overweight among both genders. Daily intakes of protein, fat and alcohol were positively related to the incidence of being overweight among men. People with 7-12 years education were more likely to be overweight compared with those with less than 6 years of education. High intakes of energy and carbohydrate among both genders, as well as high intakes of protein and fat among men, and lower levels of occupational and commuting physical activity, being a non-smoker, and partly higher socio-economic status were related to a greater incidence of being overweight in this population.