Large variations in nutritional intake have profound effects on the GH-insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) axis in children and adults, but the effect of normal variations in nutrition on IGF-I concentrations is largely unstudied, particularly during puberty. We measured serum IGF-I concentrations in 325 sixth and seventh grade girls (12.4 +/- 0.7 yr) at the beginning of a multisite school-based health curriculum. The mean serum IGF-I level among the 243 girls with complete data was 573 +/- 244 micrograms/L. Pubertal stage was significantly associated with IGF-I (P less than 0.0001, by analysis of variance). Mean concentrations rose from 427 +/- 198 micrograms/L among those at the earliest pubertal stages to 639 +/- 219 micrograms/L among the mature girls. After adjusting for the association with the stage of pubertal development, serum IGF-I was not significantly associated with measures of body composition (body mass index, triceps skin fold thickness, waist/hip ratio, height, and weight). Additionally, IGF-I concentrations were not associated with nutritional intake (total calories, total protein, total fat, and total carbohydrate) or such measures of nutrition as serum iron, hemoglobin, red cell mean corpuscular volume, white cell count, and cholesterol. IGF-I concentrations, however, were significantly correlated with transferrin concentrations, another possible index of nutritional status (r = 0.29; P less than 0.0001). IGF-I is not a clinically useful index of nutritional status among normal pubertal girls.