Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanning was primarily developed for the diagnosis of osteoporosis and was initially applied to studies of the clinically important sites of the lumbar spine, femoral neck, and forearm. The rapid adoption of DXA has led to the development of different, competing generations of equipment. Improvements have been achieved through advances in X-ray generation and detection technology, modification of data acquisition protocols, and implementation of more sophisticated image analysis algorithms. As a result, DXA has been extended to allow the study of the total skeleton and its regional parts, as well as soft-tissue composition measurement. The three major components of the body: fat mass, lean mass, and bone mineral mass, can now be easily measured using a single whole body DXA scan with high precision and low scanning time. The comprehensive view of body composition provided by DXA makes it an attractive technique for a variety of clinical applications such as the prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, clinical management of different chronic diseases, and monitoring of the impact of treatment regimens on body tissues. In this article we review the contribution DXA has made to the understanding of body composition in clinical studies in adults.