In 1994 the WHO proposed guidelines for the diagnosis of osteoporosis based on measurement of bone mineral density. They have been widely used for epidemiological studies, clinical research and for treatment strategies. Despite the widespread acceptance of the diagnostic criteria, several problems remain with their use. Uncertainties concern the optimal site for assessment, thresholds for men and diagnostic inaccuracies at different sites. In addition, the development of many new technologies to assess the amount or quality of bone poses problems in placing these new tools within a diagnostic and assessment setting. This review considers the recent literature that has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of diagnostic thresholds and their use in the assessment of fracture risk, and makes recommendations for actions to resolve these difficulties.