The body composition of 62 haemodialysis patients (41 males) and 63 controls (30 males) was assessed using anthropometry and in vivo neutron activation analysis of body nitrogen. There was no significant difference between patients and controls in body mass index (BMI) and percentage body fat. Arm muscle circumference was significantly reduced in males. Lean body mass was strongly correlated with body nitrogen in controls (r = 0.951) but less so in patients (r = 0.876). The mean standardised body nitrogen index (NI) was reduced in male patients by 13% (95% confidence interval -9 to -17%) and in females by 4% (95% confidence interval +4 to -12%). Of the 16 patients with a NI below the control range, arm muscle circumference was below the control range in only 3 and BMI less than 18 kg/m2 in 2. NI was correlated negatively with the duration of renal replacement therapy, duration of haemodialysis, the number of previous failed transplants and the total dose of steroids received but not with current energy or protein intakes. Steroid dose was the only significant independent variable. Anthropometry underestimates body protein depletion in haemodialysis patients and the degree of protein loss is related to the cumulative dose of corticosteroids previously received.