Cardiovascular disease has a progressively earlier age of onset, and disproportionately affects African Americans (AAs) in the United States. It has been difficult to establish the extent to which group differences are due to physiological, genetic, social or behavioural factors. In this study, we examined the association between blood pressure and these factors among a sample of 294 children, identified as AA, European American or Hispanic American. We use body composition, behavioural (diet and physical activity) and survey-based measures (socio-economic status and perceived racial discrimination), as well as genetic admixture based on 142 ancestry informative markers (AIMs) to examine associations with systolic and diastolic blood pressure. We find that associations differ by ethnic/racial group. Notably, among AAs, physical activity and perceived racial discrimination, but not African genetic admixture, are associated with blood pressure, while the association between blood pressure and body fat is nearly absent. We find an association between blood pressure and an AIM near a marker identified by a recent genome-wide association study. Our findings shed light on the differences in risk factors for elevated blood pressure among ethnic/racial groups, and the importance of including social and behavioural measures to grasp the full genetic/environmental aetiology of disparities in blood pressure. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited All rights reserved.