The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of street life on the growth and health status of poor children who live and work full-time on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh (street children), independent of the effects of poverty. This was accomplished by comparing 142 street children with 150 poor children who live and work on the streets of Dhaka but who return to their families at night (slum children). Children between 7-14 years old were recruited at locales where street and slum children are typically found. Weight and upper arm circumference did not differ significantly between street and slum children (P > 0.05), but energy reserves, as assessed by skinfolds, were significantly larger in street than in slum children (P < 0.05). There was no wasting in either street or slum children. Although the majority of children in both groups were stunted and underweight, there were no significant differences between groups (P > 0.05). The prevalence of disease symptoms tended to be slightly higher in street children than in slum children, but few of the differences were statistically significant (P < 0.05). These data do not support the contention that street children are a particularly high-risk group. The greater-than-expected growth and health status of street children, compared to other poor children, may be due to biologically fitter children being more likely to permanently move to the streets and/or to remain on the streets once the move has been made.