The relationship between poverty and several health-related characteristics in West Germany was investigated. Data were derived from the National and Regional Health Surveys conducted in West Germany from 1984 to 1992. 25,544 males and 25,719 females with German nationality aged 25-69 years were examined. Poverty was defined as a household income of 50% less than the mean for West Germany. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to analyze the relationship between poverty and four health variables: individual health behavior, subjective assessment of health status, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and self-reported prevalence of lifetime chronic diseases. 10.2% of males and 12.8% of females were classified as being below the poverty line. For most but not all health parameters, less favourable results were found for the segment of the population with a household income below the poverty line. The most striking poverty-related differences were observed for lack of regular sport activities, subjective health satisfaction, obesity and myocardial infarction/stroke. Significantly lower prevalence rates for study subjects below the poverty line were observed for hypercholesterolemia in females only. Allergic disorders were the only chronic diseases reported significantly less often in males and females below the poverty line. Poverty has strong effects on individual health status and the prevalence of chronic diseases. Due to the rising unemployment rates in Germany in the last years it is very likely that the strong negative consequences of poverty for health are increasing.