Although osteoporosis in men is increasingly recognized as an important health issue and bone mass appears to be a major determinant of fracture, there remain few data concerning the determinants of bone mass in men. To determine the correlates of bone density in men, we studied a large group of older subjects recruited from three rural communities in the northwestern United States. Three hundred and fifty-five men over the age of 60 years (mean 71.5 +/- 7.4 years) without known disorders of mineral metabolism were recruited by community advertising. Bone mineral density was measured at the lumbar spine, proximal femur and radius by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and factors potentially related to skeletal status were assessed by direct measurements or questionnaire. In univariate analyses weight (positively) and age (negatively) were associated with bone density. After adjustment for these two factors, alcohol intake, osteoarthritis and thiazide use were associated with higher bone density, while previous fractures, gastrectomy, peptic ulcer disease, rheumatoid arthritis, glucocorticoid use, hypertension, previous hyperthyroidism, height loss since age 20 years, chronic lung disease and smoking were related to lower density. In multivariate models, only weight and a history of cancer were related to higher bone mass, and age, previous fracture, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrectomy and hypertension were associated with lower density. These data contribute to the emerging field of osteoporosis in men, and may help in the clinical identification of men at higher risk of osteopenia.