The objective of this study was to synthesize available information on prevalence and time trends of overweight and obesity in pre-school children in the European Union. Retrieval and analysis or re-analysis of existing data were carried out. Data sources include WHO databases, Medline and Google, contact with authors of published and unpublished documents. Data were analysed using the International Obesity Task Force reference and cut-offs, and the WHO standard. Data were available from 18/27 countries. Comparisons were problematic because of different definitions and methods of data collection and analysis. The reported prevalence of overweight plus obesity at 4 years ranges from 11.8% in Romania (2004) to 32.3% in Spain (1998-2000). Countries in the Mediterranean region and the British islands report higher rates than those in middle, northern and eastern Europe. Rates are generally higher in girls than in boys. With the possible exception of England, there was no obvious trend towards increasing prevalence in the past 20-30 years in the five countries with data. The use of the WHO standard with cut-offs at 1, 2 and 3 standard deviations yields lower rates and removes gender differences. Data on overweight and obesity in pre-school children are scarce; their interpretation is difficult. Standard methods of surveillance, and research and policies on prevention and treatment, are urgently needed.