AIMS: The value of clinical definitions of the metabolic syndrome has been questioned, with confusion surrounding their intended use and purpose. Our aim was to construct a mission statement that outlines the value of the metabolic syndrome in clinical and public health settings. METHODS: Case studies have been used to demonstrate three key points. RESULTS: We argue here for recognition of obesity as being a crucial element within the metabolic syndrome but perhaps even more important before its development. We also contend that the concept does indeed have a role as a risk prediction tool, and that it could provide a useful metric for the scale and progress of the looming global epidemic of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. CONCLUSIONS: Through appreciation of its purpose, and recognition of both its limitations and those attributes that make it unique and valuable, we believe we have demonstrated here that the metabolic syndrome deserves its place in the global toolbox of diabetes and CVD prevention.