The study examined the prevalence of cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, exercising to keep fit and dieting to lose weight among general practice patients, and patients' perceptions of the role of the general practitioner in advising about life style. A cross-sectional survey using a self-administered questionnaire was completed by 13,017 patients aged 18 to 70 years who were attending one of 119 general practitioners from 40 group practices in metropolitan Sydney over a six- to eight-week period. More women than men reported dieting to lose weight, just over half of the men and women were exercising regularly to keep fit, 35 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women reported smoking, and 12 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women were drinking alcohol at levels considered hazardous or harmful. More young people were smoking, drinking hazardously or harmfully, dieting to lose weight and exercising than the older age groups, and their smoking rates exceeded those of the general population. Most patients reported that general practitioners should be interested in their life-style behaviours, particularly smoking. Substantially fewer patients (particularly women who drank excessively) reported receiving advice about their habits. General practitioners were more likely to give advice when smoking and drinking levels were very high. There were discrepancies between patients' expectations of the doctor's role in promoting healthy life styles, and their likelihood of receiving advice. Doctors could reduce the diseases associated with unhealthy practices. Developments in medical training in the 1990s may extend the way they engage in advising on issues of life style.