Low levels of serum adiponectin (i.e. hypoadiponectinaemia) are a marker of cardiometabolic risk in overweight children. It is not clear whether early-life factors may play a role in the development of hypoadiponectinaemia. We investigated whether antenatal factors and postnatal growth are associated with childhood adiponectin levels. This was an observational study in a birth cohort (Vulnerable Windows Cohort Study). Anthropometry was measured at birth, at 6 weeks, every 3 months up to 2 years and then every 6 months. Fasting glucose, insulin, lipids and adiponectin were measured at a mean age 11.5 years. Data on 323 children were analysed with age- and sex-adjusted multivariate analyses. The sizes of mother, placenta, fetus and newborn were not significantly associated with adiponectin levels. Current weight, body mass index (BMI), fat mass, waist circumference, glucose, insulin resistance [homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)], triglycerides and systolic blood pressure were inversely related to adiponectin (P < 0.05). Faster growth in BMI during late infancy and childhood was associated with lower adiponectin levels (P < 0.05). After adjusting for current waist circumference, faster growth in BMI during early infancy was positively associated with adiponectin (P < 0.01). Faster growth in BMI during childhood was inversely associated (P < 0.001). These associations were similar after adjusting for HOMA-IR. We concluded that antenatal factors are not determinants of childhood adiponectin levels. Faster growth in BMI during infancy is associated with higher levels, whereas faster rates during childhood are associated with hypoadiponectinaemia. Hypoadiponectinaemia is a marker of a more adverse cardiometabolic profile in Afro-Caribbean children.