Objectives: (1) To investigate normal circulating levels of leptin in children at various stages of pubertal maturation (Tanner stages) according to sex; and (2) to analyze serum leptin levels in pediatric patients with eating disorders (obesity, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa).
Study design: Fasting leptin levels were studied in normal healthy boys and girls throughout development. Obese pediatric subjects and patients with anorexia nervosa were studied at the time of diagnosis and after 6 months and 1 year of treatment for weight reduction or weight recuperation, respectively. Patients with bulimia nervosa were studied at the moment of diagnosis.
Results: Leptin levels in both boys and girls vary significantly depending on the maturational stage, being low in both sexes at Tanner stage I and rising significantly by Tanner stage III. In girls, there was a further increase by Tanner stage V and a significant decrease in boys, resulting in a sexual dimorphism in Tanner V subjects. In obese prepubertal patients, leptin levels were significantly elevated at the time of diagnosis and declined significantly with weight loss (ANOVA: p < 0.0001). In anorexia nervosa patients' leptin levels are significantly reduced compared with age- and sex-matched controls (p < 0.0001). These levels remain significantly lower even after recovery of at least 10% of the original body weight and 1 year later. In patients with bulimia leptin levels were reduced at the time of diagnosis but were significantly higher than in patients with anorexia.
Conclusion: In normal pediatric subjects leptin levels are highly correlated with the body mass index, but this is not the case in eating disorders, where the body mass index is either significantly elevated or reduced. Both age and sex should be taken into consideration when analyzing serum leptin levels.