BACKGROUND: Dietary and lifestyle behaviors at young ages have been associated with the development of various chronic diseases. Schools are regarded as an excellent setting for lifestyle modification; there is a lack, however, of published dietary data in Cypriot school children. Thus, the objective of this work was to describe lifestyle characteristics of a representative segment of Cypriot school children and provide implications for school health education. METHODS: The CYKIDS (Cyprus Kids Study) is a national, cross-sectional study conducted among 1140 school children (10.7 +/- 0.98 years). Sampling was stratified and multistage in 24 primary schools of Cyprus. Dietary assessment was based on a 154-item semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire and three supplementary questionnaires, assessing dietary patterns and behaviors. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was evaluated by the KIDMED index (Mediterranean Diet Quality Index for children and adolescents). Physical activity was assessed by a 32-item, semi-quantitative questionnaire. RESULTS: Analysis revealed that 6.7% of the children were classified as high adherers, whereas 37% as low adherers to the Mediterranean diet. About 20% of boys and 25% of girls reported "not having breakfast on most days of the week", while more than 80% of the children reported having meals with the family at least 5 times/week. Some food-related behaviors, such as intake of breakfast, were associated with socio-demographic factors, mostly with gender and the geomorphological characteristics of the living milieu. With respect to physical activity, boys reported higher levels compared to girls, however, one fourth of children did not report any kind of physical activity. CONCLUSION: A large percentage of Cypriot school children have a diet of low quality and inadequate physical activity. Public health policy makers should urgently focus their attention to primary school children and design school health education programs that target the areas that need attention in order to reduce the future burden of metabolic disorders and chronic diseases.