In this article, multi-attribute approaches to the assessment of health status are reviewed with a special focus on 2 recently developed systems, the Health Utilities Index (HUI) Mark II and Mark III systems. The Mark II system consists of 7 attributes: sensation, mobility, emotion, cognition, self-care, pain and fertility. The Mark III system contains 8 attributes: vision, hearing, speech, ambulation, dexterity, emotion, cognition and pain. Each attribute consists of multiple levels of functioning. A combination of levels across the attributes constitutes a health state. The HUI systems are deliberately focused on the fundamental core attributes of health status, and on the capacity of individuals to function with respect to these attributes. Thus, the measure obtained constitutes a pure description of health status, uncontaminated by differential opportunity or preference. Multi-attribute systems provide a compact but comprehensive framework for describing health status for use in population health and programme evaluation studies. An important advantage of such systems is their ability to simultaneously provide detail on an attribute-by-attribute basis and to capture combinations of deficits among attributes. An additional advantage is their compatibility with multi-attribute preference functions, which provide a method for computing a summary health-related quality-of-life score for each health state.