Leptin, a hormone secreted by adipocytes, is elevated in blood of obese adults. It is unknown whether the concentration is affected by gender, ethnicity, age, or stage of sexual maturation in children. We measured serum leptin levels in 183 children and 27 young adults using a double-antibody ELISA assay. Body fat mass (FM) and percent body fatness (%Fat) were determined by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. Correlations for serum leptin with FM, %Fat, and a body mass index were examined. Analyses of covariance were used to determine the effects of gender, ethnicity, and sexual maturation (Tanner stage). We found strong positive correlations (r = 0.56-0.88, p < 0.001) for serum leptin with body mass index. %Fat, and FM, which were gender-dependent (p < 0.001), but unaffected by ethnicity. At each Tanner stage, female subjects had higher serum leptin than male subjects (p < 0.001), and this difference remained significant (p < 0.001) when leptin was normalized for FM. For each gender, the mean leptin/FM ratios were relatively invariant during sexual maturation and no differences were observed between the oldest children (Tanner stage 5) and the young adults. The observation that female subjects have higher mean serum leptin and leptin/FM levels than male subjects at prepubertal ages may suggest that there are gender differences in leptin synthesis, clearance rates, bioactivity, and/or leptin transport.