Purpose - This paper seeks to describe the design, implementation, and lessons learned from an obesity prevention pilot program delivered in a low resource school in the USA. Design/methodology/approach - A planned program evaluation was conducted to: document explicitly the process of designing and implementing the program; and assess the feasibility and acceptability of the program to inform future planning. Evaluation data were gathered using document review (i.e. minutes from meetings with research staff and school personnel), key informant interviews, and focus groups. Qualitative data were analyzed using content analysis. Quantitative data were summarized using descriptive statistics. Findings - A total of 113 African-American students (47 per cent female) participated in the program. Over half were overweight or obese and mean nutrition and physical activity behaviors were below recommended guidelines. A participatory process involving school administrators, teachers, parents, and students resulted in the design of a program salient to the target population and responsive to the school's limited financial and human resources. The program was positively viewed by student and school staff alike. Challenges for implementing the program included: maintaining classroom management with very large class sizes and limited school staff, and difficulty in actively engaging parents in program implementation. Research limitations/implications - As a pilot program at a single school during one school year, the results may have limited generalizability. However, the paper supports the feasibility and acceptability of obesity prevention interventions in schools with limited resources. Practical implications - School-based programs can support nutrition education and increased physical activity opportunities, which may promote lifelong health behaviors. Future programs can increase the likelihood of behavior change and program sustainability by limiting class sizes, increasing parent involvement, integrating intrapersonal level changes with institutional factors, and developing community partnerships. Originality/value - The research described provides insights into effective strategie? and lessons learned for developing school-based obesity-prevention programs in schools with limited resources. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.