Although failure to thrive (FTT) is generally thought to be a nutritional problem, dietary intake in children with FTT has been little researched. We describe two community-based studies of dietary intake and eating behaviour in FTT. The first study of ninety-seven children with FTT identified by population screening found that only a minority of case children were associated with neglect, organic illness or deprivation, even though dietary information suggested an underlying nutritional cause in the majority. Limited case-control data suggested significantly delayed weaning and less liking for food in general among the case children. The second study found diminished appetite, delayed progression onto solid foods and fewer foods eaten by forty-four children referred with FTT compared with forty-five controls, but was unable to detect a significant difference in energy intake, even allowing for varying body composition and other confounding variables. This study also revealed the bias introduced by recruiting case children by referral rather than screening, and that despite rigorous matching procedures the controls were not representative of the general population. These studies suggest a wide range of differences in eating behaviour and feeding patterns between children with FTT and controls, but suggest that measurements of nutrient totals may not be robust. Studies of FTT based on referred children can be misleading, as can comparison with controls, unless allowance can be made for important confounding social variables.