Background The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased during the past decades and is now considered an urgent public health problem. Although stabilizing trends in obesity prevalence have been identified in parts of Europe, preventive efforts in children are still needed. Using the socio-ecological approach as the underlying theoretical perspective, the IDEFICS project aimed to develop, implement and evaluate a community-based intervention for the prevention of childhood obesity in eight European countries. The aim of the present manuscript was to describe the content and developmental process of the IDEFICS intervention. Methods The intervention mapping protocol (IMP) was used to develop the community-based intervention for the prevention of childhood obesity in 3 to 10 years old children. It is a theory- and evidence-based tool for the structured planning and development of health promotion programs that requires the completion of six different steps. These steps were elaborated by two coordinating centers and discussed with the other participating centers until agreement was reached. Focus group research was performed in all participating centers to provide an informed basis for intervention development. Results The application of the IMP resulted in an overall intervention framework with ten intervention modules targeting environmental and personal factors through the family, the school and the community. The summary results of the focus group research were used to inform the development of the overall intervention. The cultural adaptation of the overall intervention was realised by using country specific focus group results. The need for cultural adaptation was considered during the entire process to improve program adoption and implementation. A plan was developed to evaluate program effectiveness and quality of implementation. Conclusions The IDEFICS project developed a community-based intervention for the prevention of childhood obesity by using to the intervention mapping heuristic. The IDEFICS intervention consists of a general and standardized intervention framework that allows for cultural adaptation to make the intervention feasible and to enhance deliverability in all participating countries. The present manuscript demonstrates that the development of an intervention is a long process that needs to be done systematically. Time, human resources and finances need to be planned beforehand to make interventions evidence-based and culturally relevant.