1. Total body potassium was estimated by 40K measurement with a high-sensitivity whole-body counter in normal individuals over a wide age range and in patients who were obese or were grossly wasted as a result of various conditions which restricted food intake.
2. Potassium concentration (mmol/kg body weight) fell with increasing age over 30 years in both normal males and females, but when individuals of different age groups were matched for height, a significant fall in total body potassium with increasing age was observed only in males. Total body potassium of females was about 75% that of males of similar height when young, the sex difference decreasing with ageing. In the normal population, total body potassium was significantly correlated with height and with weight; regression equations for various relationships are given.
3. Fat-free mass was estimated from total body potassium, values of 65 and 56 mmol of potassium/kg fat-free mass being used for males and females respectively. Body fat estimated by this method correlated well with skinfold measurements over a wide range of body weight but in malnourished individuals having inadequate food intake there was considerable discrepancy and present formulae for estimating fat-free mass from total body potassium appear unsatisfactory in malnutrition. Considerable differences between expected and observed values of total body potassium were found in muscular individuals and in normal individuals who were thin but whose body weight was relatively constant.
4. The patients with malnutrition were low both in body fat as estimated by skinfold thickness and in total body potassium estimated on the basis of height. Plasma potassium was, however, normal and potassium supplements did not increase the total body potassium.
5. Total body potassium of obese individuals was not significantly different from that of normal weight individuals on the basis of height. Total body potassium fell on weight reduction with a very low energy diet of 1260 kJ (300 kcal.) daily but changed little with a 3300 kJ (800 kcal.) diet over several months' observation.
6. For overweight, obese individuals, total body potassium was best predicted from the individual's height. For those whose body weight was less than expected, the use of weight gave the best prediction but the error was considerable when the weight deviation was large.