In Turkish adults, HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) levels are 10-15 mg/dl lower than those of adults in western Europe and the United States. In this study, we determined whether HDL-C levels in Turks are low from birth to adulthood and assessed the effect of socioeconomic status (SES) on plasma lipids and lipoproteins. Analyses of cord blood from 105 Turkish newborns showed low levels of plasma cholesterol ( approximately 60 mg/dl) and HDL-C (approximately 30 mg/dl), consistent with results from other Western ethnic groups. Prepubescent 8- to 10-year-old Turkish boys and girls of upper (n = 82) and lower (n = 143) SES had high HDL-C levels (50-60 mg/dl) similar to those of western European children. However, the cholesterol (154-158 mg/dl) and HDL-C (55-58 mg/dl) levels of upper SES children were approximately 25 and approximately 12 mg/dl higher, respectively, than those of lower SES children. Height, weight, skinfold thickness, and estimated body fat were greater in the upper SES children and appeared to reflect dietary differences. Upper SES children consumed more total fat (approximately 35% vs. 25% of total calories), including more saturated fat of animal origin, and less carbohydrate (approximately 50% vs. 62% of total calories), consistent with their elevated plasma cholesterol levels. Carbohydrate intake correlated inversely with the HDL-C level. The HDL-C levels in the prepubescent children, especially those of higher SES, who consumed diets more like western Europeans, decreased markedly to adult levels, with males exhibiting a approximately 20 mg/dl decrease (from 58 to 37 mg/dl) and females a approximately 13 mg/dl decrease (from 55 to 42 mg/dl). SES did not affect HDL-C levels in adults. The profound decrease may reflect alterations in androgen/estrogen balance in Turks at puberty and a modulation of hepatic lipase affecting HDL-C levels.