On December 13th and 14th a group of scientists and clinicians met in Washington, DC, for the cachexia consensus conference. At the present time, there is no widely agreed upon operational definition of cachexia. The lack of a definition accepted by clinician and researchers has limited identification and treatment of cachectic patient as well as the development and approval of potential therapeutic agents. The definition that emerged is: "cachexia, is a complex metabolic syndrome associated with underlying illness and characterized by loss of muscle with or without loss of fat mass. The prominent clinical feature of cachexia is weight loss in adults (corrected for fluid retention) or growth failure in children (excluding endocrine disorders). Anorexia, inflammation, insulin resistance and increased muscle protein breakdown are frequently associated with cachexia. Cachexia is distinct from starvation, age-related loss of muscle mass, primary depression, malabsorption and hyperthyroidism and is associated with increased morbidity. While this definition has not been tested in epidemiological or intervention studies, a consensus operational definition provides an opportunity for increased research.