All students at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine (n = 508) were surveyed on their self-reported smoking and drinking habits, attitudes to disease prevention and health promotion in general, attitudes towards the teaching of disease prevention and health promotion, and their perception of what was taught at the beginning of the 1993-1994 academic year (response rate 75.2%). The teaching staff (n = 271) were also surveyed on their attitudes towards the teaching of disease prevention and health promotion, and their perception of what was taught (response rate 74.2%). Seventeen per cent of the students reported they were current smokers and 81% drank alcohol. Four factors were extracted from the responses to the items on disease prevention and health promotion in general and these represented the importance of health, a patient-centred approach, patient responsibility and a doctor-centred approach. Clinical students and those who were older were more likely to have a 'patient-centred' approach to disease prevention and health promotion. Sixty per cent of clinical and 44% of pre-clinical teachers aimed to teach about disease prevention and health promotion. The topics reported by students as most likely to have been taught in detail are smoking and health, alcohol and health, immunization, and breast and cervical screening. However, all these topics were reported as having been taught in detail by less than 50% of the students. The majority of students and teachers believe that teaching about disease prevention and health promotion should be integrated into all years of the curriculum and all clinical firms. Teachers were significantly less likely than students to believe that students should learn more about disease prevention and health promotion, and that learning about prevention is as important as learning about diagnosis and treatment. We believe that, in order to build on the positive features highlighted in this study, agreed aims and objectives should be developed and teaching about disease prevention and health promotion should be integrated both horizontally and vertically throughout the curriculum.