The aims of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey series are summarized, and the new National Diet and Nutrition Survey of people aged 65 years and over is explored, with particular emphasis on micronutrient intakes and status indices. Mean nutrient intakes were generally satisfactory for most micronutrients, but intakes of vitamin D, Mg, K and Cu were low. Intakes of vitamin D were far below the reference nutrient intake for people aged 65 years and over, and there was also biochemical evidence of vitamin D deficiency, for 8 % of free-living and 37 % of institution participants, attributed partly to limited exposure to sunlight. A substantial proportion of people living in institutions had inadequate biochemical status indices, notably for vitamin C, Fe and folate. Relationships between intake and status were close for vitamins. Mineral intakes did not correlate well with currently used status indices. Some intakes and indices, especially those of vitamin C, carotenoids, Na and K, were strongly correlated with socio-economic status and with north–south gradients in Britain. Future research challenges should address the functional and health significance of low intakes and sub-optimal biochemical indices for certain micronutrients, especially for people living in institutions; the shortcomings of mineral status indices especially as indicators of mineral intake; the social and geographical inequalities of micronutrient intakes and status, and why micronutrient status deteriorates with increasing age. The answers to these questions will help to define the characteristics of nutritional risk for older people in Britain, and to clarify future needs for education and intervention.