Previous studies have shown associations of variants of the FTO gene with body weight, but none of these have involved Latin American populations with a high level of miscegenation, as is seen in the north-eastern Brazilian population. This study evaluated the association between SNP in the FTO gene and excess weight in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. In addition, the effect of diet as a modifier on this association was also investigated. This cross-sectional study included 1191 participants aged 4–11 years, who were genotyped for 400 variants of the FTO gene. Direct anthropometric measures were made and dietary data were obtained by 24-h food recall. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to assess the associations of interest. Overall, 11·2 % of the individuals included in the study were overweight/obese. Interactions were identified between the percentage energy intake from proteins and obesity risk linked to the rs62048379 SNP (Pinteraction=0·01) and also between fat intake (PUFA:SFA ratio) and obesity risk linked to the rs62048379 SNP (Pinteraction=0·01). The T allele for the variant rs62048379 was positively associated with overweight/obesity in individuals whose percentage energy intake from protein was above the median (OR 2·00; 95 % CI 1·05, 3·82). The rs62048379 SNP was also associated with overweight/obesity in individuals whose PUFA:SFA ratio was below the median (OR 1·63; 95 % CI 1·05, 2·55). The association between FTO gene variants and excess body weight can be modulated by dietary characteristics, particularly by fatty acid distribution and dietary protein intake in children.