This article presents the conclusions of a WHO Expert Consultation that evaluated the utility of the 'metabolic syndrome' concept in relation to four key areas: pathophysiology, epidemiology, clinical work and public health. The metabolic syndrome is a concept that focuses attention on complex multifactorial health problems. While it may be considered useful as an educational concept, it has limited practical utility as a diagnostic or management tool. Further efforts to redefine it are inappropriate in the light of current knowledge and understanding, and there is limited utility in epidemiological studies in which different definitions of the metabolic syndrome are compared. Metabolic syndrome is a pre-morbid condition rather than a clinical diagnosis, and should thus exclude individuals with established diabetes or known cardiovascular disease (CVD). Future research should focus on: (1) further elucidation of common metabolic pathways underlying the development of diabetes and CVD, including those clustering within the metabolic syndrome; (2) early-life determinants of metabolic risk; (3) developing and evaluating context-specific strategies for identifying and reducing CVD and diabetes risk, based on available resources; and (4) developing and evaluating population-based prevention strategies.