BACKGROUND: Bali has undergone rapid economic modernization over the past 30 years, however, very few anthropometric studies have examined the impact of modernization variables on the nutritional status of Balinese children. AIM: The study examined the relationships between variables associated with the modernization process on the nutritional status of Balinese children in 1989/1990, as assessed by anthropometrics. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: The mean height-for-age, weight-for-height and weight-for-age of 691 preschool children from nine localities across Bali were reported by age group and gender and related to the degree of modernization (using such parameters as household wealth and education level of the mother) and other variables such as the age, weight and height of the mother. RESULTS: Using the CDC/WHO 1978 growth references (Dibley et al. 1978), overall 35% of children were stunted (height-for-age <-2 SD), 22% were underweight (weight-for-age <-2 SD), 5% were wasted (weight-for-height <-2 SD) and 6% were overweight (weight-for-height >2 SD). The nutritional status of infants was significantly better than that of older children with growth faltering most evident during the second year of life. Maternal height and weight, the age of the child and wealth index were significantly associated with height-for-age of children, while the age of the child, maternal weight and family size were significantly associated with weight-for-height and weight-for-age of children. CONCLUSIONS: Maternal height and weight, wealth index and the age of the child were key factors influencing the body size for age of Balinese children. The strong association between maternal and child nutritional status was most likely due to environmental rather than genetic factors.