Changes in paraoxonase 1 (PON1) activities have been observed in a variety of diseases involving oxidative stress, such as CVD. However, its role in obesity has not been fully established. In the present study, we aimed (1) to genotype sixteen PON1 SNP, (2) to measure serum PON1 activities and (3) to correlate these findings with the incidence of childhood obesity and related traits. We conducted a case–control study of 189 normal-weight and 179 obese prepubertal children, and we measured four different PON1 activities: lactonase; paraoxonase; arylesterase; diazoxonase. Although none of these activities was significantly different between the obese and normal-weight children, lactonase activity was found to be positively correlated with HDL-cholesterol and ApoA1 levels and negatively correlated with myeloperoxidase and fatty acid-binding protein 4 levels. Among the sixteen genotyped PON1 SNP, only the intronic SNP rs854566 exhibited a significant association with obesity (OR 0·61, 95 % CI 0·41, 0·91; P= 0·016). This genetic variant was also associated with increased diazoxonase, lactonase and arylesterase activities and decreased paraoxonase activity. Other genetic variants exhibited different association patterns with serum activities based on their location within the PON1 gene, and SNP that were located within the promoter were strongly associated with lactonase, arylesterase and diazoxonase activities. The functional variant Q192R exhibited the greatest effect on paraoxonase activity (P= 5·88 × 10− 42). In conclusion, SNP rs854566 was negatively associated with childhood obesity and with increased serum PON1 activities in prepubertal children. We determined that lactonase is a reliable indicator of PON1 activities and should be included in future studies of PON1 function.