Our aim was to determine the prevalence of radiographically defined vertebral deformity, as a marker of vertebral osteoporosis, in different regions and populations within Europe. We used a cross-sectional population-based survey. Population-based sampling frames were obtained from 36 centers in 19 European countries. Stratified random sampling was used to recruit 15,570 males and females aged 50-79 years. Lateral spinal radiographs were taken according to a standardized protocol, and all X-rays were evaluated centrally. Vertebral deformity was morphometrically defined according to the published methods of McCloskey and Eastell. Based on the McCloskey method, the mean center prevalence of all deformities was 12% in females (range 6-21%) and 12% in males (range 8-20%). The prevalence increased with age in both sexes though the gradient was steeper in females. There was substantial geographical variation, with the highest rates in Scandinavian countries. Radiographically defined vertebral deformity is a common disorder and equally frequent in males and females. Using standardized methodology, there is important variation in occurrence across Europe, which might suggest clues to pathogenesis.