About 40% of patients undergoing maintenance dialysis suffer from varying degrees of protein-energy malnutrition. This is a problem of substantial importance because many measures of nutritional status correlate with the risk of morbidity and mortality. There are many causes of protein-energy malnutrition in maintenance dialysis patients. Evidence indicates that nutritional decline begins even when the reduction in glomerular filtration rate is modest, and it is likely that the observed decrease in dietary protein and energy intake plays an important role. The nutrient intake of patients receiving maintenance dialysis also is often inadequate, and several lines of evidence suggest that toxins that accumulate with renal failure suppress appetite and contribute to nutritional decline once patients are on maintenance dialysis. Recent epidemiologic studies have suggested that both increased serum levels of leptin and inflammation may reduce nutrient intake and contribute to the development of protein-energy malnutrition. It is likely that associated illnesses, which are highly prevalent, contribute to malnutrition in maintenance dialysis patients. Recent data from the United States Renal Data System registry suggest that in the United States, the mortality rate of dialysis patients is improving. However, it remains high. We offer suggestions for predialysis and dialysis care of these patients that can result in improvement in their nutritional status. Whether this improvement will result in a decrease in patient morbidity and mortality is unknown.