Aim: To investigate the effects of variation in the leptin [ LEP (19A>G)] and melanocortin-4 receptor [MC4R (V103I)] genes on obesity-related traits in 13 405 African-American (AA) and white participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Methods: We tested the association between the single-locus and multilocus genotypes and obesity-related measures [body mass index (BMI), body weight (BW), waist-hip ratio, waist circumference and leptin levels], adjusted for age, physical activity level, smoking status, diabetic status, prevalence of coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke or transient ischaemic attack. Results: AA and white female carriers of the MC4R I103 allele exhibited significantly lower BW than non-carriers of this allele (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01 respectively). AA female carriers of both the LEP A19 allele and the MC4R I103 allele were 63% [odds ratio (OR) = 0.37, 95% confidence interval (CI) (0.18-0.78)] less likely to be obese, and white female carriers of the same two alleles were 46% [OR = 0.54, 95% CI (0.32-0.91)] less likely to be obese, than non-carriers of the variant alleles. Female carriers of both the LEP A19 and MC4R I103 alleles had significantly lower BW (p < 0.05), BMI (p < 0.05) and plasma leptin (p < 0.01) than the non-carriers of both the alleles. Carriers of the two variant alleles had lower BMI over the 9-year course of the ARIC study and significantly lower weight gain from age 25 years. No significant joint effect of these two variants was observed in males. Conclusion: These results suggest that variation within the LEP and MC4R genes is associated with reduced risk for obesity in females.