the objective of the study was to investigate the relationship between childhood iq of parents and characteristics of their adult offspring. it was a prospective family cohort study linked to a mental ability survey of the parents and set in renfrew and paisley in scotland. participants were 1921-born men and women who took part in the scottish mental survey in 1932 and the renfrew/paisley study in the 1970s, and whose offspring took part in the midspan family study in 1996. there were 286 offspring from 179 families. parental iq was related to some, but not all characteristics of offspring. greater parental iq was associated with taller offspring. parental iq was inversely related to number of cigarettes smoked by offspring. higher parental iq was associated with better education, offspring social class and offspring deprivation category. there were no significant relationships between parental iq and offspring systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, lung function, weight, body mass index, waist hip ratio, housing, alcohol consumption, marital status, car use and exercise. structural equation modelling showed parental iq associated with offspring education directly and mediated via parental social class. offspring education was associated with offspring smoking and social class. the smoking finding may have implications for targeting of health education.