Plasma total homocysteine (tHcy), cysteine and cysteinyl-glycine were measured in a representative sample of 922 young people aged 4-18 years, participating in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in mainland Britain in 1997. Both tHcy and cysteine increased markedly with age; cysteinyl-glycine less so. Neither tHcy nor cysteine differed between genders; cysteinyl-glycine was higher in males. tHcy concentrations were lowest in the winter; cysteine and cysteinyl-glycine varied only slightly with season. In respondents aged >15 years, tHcy was higher in smokers, but in respondents aged 7-11 years, tHcy was higher in those whose mothers smoked. tHcy was inversely correlated with serum folate, serum vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 status, but neither cysteine nor cysteinyl-glycine shared these relationships. The relationships between tHcy and B-vitamin status indices ran parallel with those of the 65 years and over survey, but at much lower tHcy concentrations for any given B-vitamin concentration. Age-adjusted tHcy was not correlated with anthropometric indices, blood pressure, haematology, plasma creatinine, urea or cholesterol, but was directly correlated with fasting triacylglycerol. We conclude that disease-risk indices, like tHcy and perhaps cysteine, if established during early life, may be modulated by diet and lifestyle, thereby providing an opportunity for public health intervention.