For a decade or more, poor nutrition during gestation, expressed as low weight at birth, was held to be the factor responsible for insulin resistance later in life. Birth weights, however, are rising and insulin resistant states, such as diabetes mellitus, faster still. Alternative explanations are needed to explain insulin resistance in contemporary industrialised populations. EarlyBird is a non-intervention prospective cohort study that asks the question 'Which children develop insulin resistance, and why?' It is unique in taking serial blood samples from a young age with which to monitor the behaviour of insulin resistance and its metabolic correlates. This, the baseline report of the EarlyBird Study, describes the rationale, design and methodology of the study, and the profile of the population at entry. It situates the anthropometric, physical activity and dietary status of the EarlyBird children and provides a detailed metabolic profile of the British 5 year-old in the year 2000.