Leptin is thought to signal energy stores, thus helping the body balance energy intake and expenditure. However, the strong relationship between leptin and adiposity in populations with adequate nutrition or common obesity is not universal across ecologic contexts, and leptin often correlates only weakly, or not at all, with adiposity in populations of lean or marginally-nourished males. To clarify whether the relationship between adiposity and leptin changes during development, this study examines leptin and body fat among children and adolescents of lowland Bolivia. Anthropometric measures of body composition and dried blood spot samples were collected from 487 Tsimane 'ranging from 2 to 15 years of age. Leptin was assayed using an enzyme immunoassay protocol validated for use with blood spot samples. In this population, leptin concentrations were among the lowest reported in a human population (mean ± SD: 1.26 ± 0.5 and 0.57 ± 0.3 in females and males). In addition, the relationship between leptin and adiposity follows distinct developmental trajectories in males and females. In males, leptin is weakly correlated with most measures of body composition at all ages investigated. However, in females, the level of body fat and the strength of the correlation between body fat and leptin (a measure of its strength as a signal of energy stores) both increase markedly with age. These findings suggest a more important role of leptin as a signal of energy stores among females as they approach reproductive maturity, while raising questions about the function of this hormone in lean males. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.