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Health risks in elderly people cannot be evaluated simply in conventional terms of body fatness or fat distribution. Elderly people have less muscle and bone mass, expanded extracellular fluid volumes, and reduced body cell mass compared to younger adults. These nonfat components of body composition play critical roles, influencing cognitive and physical functional status, nutritional and endocrine status, quality of life, and comorbidity in elderly people. Different patterns of "disordered body composition" have different relationships to these outcomes and may require different, tailored approaches to treatment that combine various exercise regimens and dietary supplements with hormone replacement or appetite-stimulating drugs. Skeletal muscle atrophy, or "sarcopenia," is highly prevalent in the elderly population, increases with age, and is strongly associated with disability, independent of morbidity. Elders at greatest risk are those who are simultaneously sarcopenic and obese. The accurate identification of sarcopenic obesity requires precise methods of simultaneously measuring fat and lean components, such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.