Clinical and laboratory observations of 133 children and adolescents with Crohn's disease were used to validate an index of severity of illness previously developed by a group of senior pediatric gastroenterologists at a research forum in April 1990. This pediatric Crohn's disease activity index (PCDAI) included (a) subjective reporting of the degree of abdominal pain, stool pattern, and general well-being; (b) presence of extraintestinal manifestations, such as fever, arthritis, rash, and uveitis; (c) physical examination findings; (d) weight and height; and (e) hematocrit, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and serum albumin. Independent evaluation of each patient by two physician-observers was performed at the time of a visit, and each physician completed a PCDAI index and a modified Harvey-Bradshaw index and made a "global assessment" of disease activity as none, mild, moderate, or severe. Excellent interobserver agreement was noted for the PCDAI, modified Harvey-Bradshaw index, and global assessment. There was a strong correlation between global assessment and both the PCDAI or modified Harvey-Bradshaw. Increasing PCDAI scores were noted with increasing disease severity, and significant differences in scores were noted between the severity groups. We propose that the PCDAI could be used in multicenter projects to facilitate patient stratification by disease severity and that longitudinal PCDAI scores might provide a numerical measure of response to therapeutic regimens.