Lack of physical activity and low levels of physical fitness are thought to be contributing factors to the high prevalence of obesity in African-American girls. To examine this hypothesis, we compared habitual physical activity and physical fitness in 54 African-American girls with obesity and 96 African-American girls without obesity residing in rural South Carolina. Participation in vigorous (> or = 6 METs) (VPA) or moderate and vigorous physical activity (> or = 4 METs) (MVPA) was assessed on three consecutive days using the Previous Day Physical Activity Recall. Cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed using the PWC 170 cycle ergometer test. Upper body strength was determined at two sites via isometric cable tensiometer tests. Relative to their counterparts without obesity, girls with obesity reported significantly fewer 30-minute blocks of VPA (0.90 +/- 0.14 vs. 1.3 +/- 0.14) and MVPA (1.2 +/- 0.18 vs. 1.7 +/- 0.16) (p < 0.01). Within the entire sample, VPA and MVPA were inversely associated with body mass index (r = -0.17 and r = -0.19) and triceps skinfold thickness (r = -0.19 and r = -0.22) (p < 0.05). In the PWC 170 test and isometric strength tests, girls with obesity demonstrated absolute scores that were similar to, or greater than, those of girls without obesity; however, when scores were expressed relative to bodyweight, girls with obesity demonstrated significantly lower values (p < 0.05). The results support the hypothesis that lack of physical activity and low physical fitness are important contributing factors in the development and/or maintenance of obesity in African-American girls.