In children and adolescents from two areas of Costa Rica with contrasting gastric cancer risks, two factors suspected to be linked to the natural history of the disease were tested: serum antibodies to Helicobacter pylori and serum pepsinogen levels. One hundred fifty-five subjects from the high-risk area of Turrubares were compared to 127 from the low-risk area of Hojancha. No significant differences were found in the prevalence of IgG or IgA antibodies to Helicobacter pylori between the two regions. The prevalence of IgG was 65.8% in the high-risk area and 72.4 in the low-risk area, and that of IgA was 43% in both areas. The levels of pepsinogen, especially pepsinogen C, were significantly elevated in subjects with H. pylori antibodies in their serum. The mean levels of pepsinogen C in those negative, positive, and strong positive for H. pylori antibodies were 8.7, 14.3, and 21.1 ng/ml. These findings suggest that H. pylori-associated gastritis, predominantly of antral localization, is very prevalent in Costa Rican children and adolescents. Such gastritis might be associated with a high prevalence of intestinal metaplasia and a high gastric cancer risk in the inland, but not the coastal rural populations. H. pylori may therefore be an insufficient cause whose role in gastric carcinogenesis is contingent upon the presence of other factors.