The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has indicated that urban poverty is found primarily in squatter settlements. At present one in seven (13,5 per cent) of all South African households live in informal settlements. The major research question is to what extent the interlocking micromechanisms identified by UNICEF as causes of malnutrition influence the nutrition and health of residents in an informal settlement in the Vaal Triangle. This question will be tested empirically against the UNICEF framework of immediate, underlying and basic causes of malnutrition. Pre-tested questionnaires were administered to 340 randomly selected care-givers. A previously validated quantified food frequency questionnaire was administered by trained enumerators as the test measurement, and 24-hour recall as the reference measurement, for dietary intake and food consumption patterns. The data were statistically analysed for means and standard deviations. The great majority of the respondents (nine out of ten) live in corrugated iron shacks, and overcrowding is common; 32 per cent live in two rooms or fewer, 44 per cent in three to four rooms and 24 per cent in more than four rooms. Thirty-one per cent of the households consisted of six or more members, 19 per cent of five members, 22 per cent of four members and 28 per cent of three or fewer members. The unemployment 'rate was 94 per cent for respondents and 80 per cent for their partners. Two-thirds of care-givers (69 per cent) have an income below R500 per month. The main health problems that were observed were chronic coughing (44 per cent) and headaches (54 per cent). The causes of these were not established. Diets were poor and consisted overwhelmingly of refined carbohydrates. The top 10 food items consumed were: stiff and soft maize meal porridge, brewed rooibos and leaf tea, coffee, mabela, white bread, crumbly maize porridge, carbonated cold drink and mageu. The daily intakes (mean and standard deviation) of various nutrients were: 4550 ± 1993 kJ energy, 20 ± 9 g protein, 21 ± 21 g fat and 182 ± 78 g carbohydrates. The results indicate that this is a poverty-stricken community with chronic household food insecurity and compromised nutrition. It is hoped that the knowledge gained from this survey will improve the planning and implementation of sustainable community-based interventions to promote urban household food security and combat nutrition-related diseases.