Abstract Background Body fat mass distribution and deposition are determined by multiple environmental and genetic factors. Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and type 2 diabetes. We previously identified evidence for genotype-by-diabetes interaction on obesity traits in Strong Heart Family Study (SHFS) participants. To localize these genetic effects, we conducted genome-wide linkage scans of obesity traits in individuals with and without type 2 diabetes, and in the combined sample while modeling interaction with diabetes using maximum likelihood methods (SOLAR 2.1.4). Methods SHFS recruited American Indians from Arizona, North and South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Anthropometric measures and diabetes status were obtained during a clinic visit. Marker allele frequencies were derived using maximum likelihood methods estimated from all individuals and multipoint identity by descent sharing was estimated using Loki. We used variance component linkage analysis to localize quantitative trait loci (QTLs) influencing obesity traits. We tested for evidence of additive and QTL-specific genotype-by-diabetes interactions using the regions identified in the diabetes-stratified analyses. Results Among 245 diabetic and 704 non-diabetic American Indian individuals, we detected significant additive gene-by-diabetes interaction for weight and BMI (P < 0.02). In analysis accounting for QTL-specific interaction (P < 0.001), we detected a QTL for weight on chromosome 1 at 242 cM (LOD = 3.7). This chromosome region harbors the adiponectin receptor 1 gene, which has been previously associated with obesity. Conclusion These results suggest distinct genetic effects on body mass in individuals with diabetes compared to those without diabetes, and a possible role for one or more genes on chromosome 1 in the pathogenesis of obesity.