BACKGROUND: Inuit infants throughout the Arctic experience higher mortality and poorer health than their non-Inuit counterparts, and suffer disproportionately from bacterial and viral infections. STUDY DESIGN:This review examines the health status of these infants, with a focus on Canadian Inuit communities and reference to other circumpolar regions, as appropriate. It is based on a Medline search (1965 to present), special analyses of the 1996 Canadian Census and various national surveys, and selected government reports and documents. RESULTS: A wide range of inter-related factors affect the health of Inuit infants: their demographic, social, economic and physical environment, as well as personal health practices and the availability of high quality, culturally appropriate health services. Some of these factors may influence the susceptibility of Inuit infants to infection. Smoking is highly prevalent in Inuit communities, and its indisputable negative effects on health, including increased risk of respiratory tract infection in infants, represent an urgent public health challenge. CONCLUSION: Locally driven, focused and methodologically sound epidemiological research that addresses key gaps in knowledge could lead to more appropriate and effective preventive strategies to improve health in northern communities.