The importance of studying health-related quality of life in the general population has increasingly been emphasized. From a public health perspective, this benefits the identification of population inequalities in health status. One of the currently most popular instruments is the EQ-5D. Evaluations of the EQ-5D generally focus on the overall preference-based index. As this index has a built-in value, exploration of the information from the underlying health states is also important. In this study, the ten most commonly reported EQ-5D health states are described using the SF-36. Data collected in 1999 by questionnaires mailed to a random sample aged 20-74 in south-eastern Sweden were used (n = 9489). Almost 43% reported the best possible EQ-5D health state and 78% were accounted for by three EQ-5D health states. The EQ-5D health state classification was largely reflected by the SF-36, with the EQ-5D items mobility, usual activities, pain/discomfort and anxiety/depression tapping most clearly on the SF-36 scales physical functioning, role limitations due to physical health problems, bodily pain, and mental health, respectively. However, within the same level of EQ-5D (i.e., moderate problems) there was a rather large variation of SF-36 scale scores, particularly regarding the EQ-5D item pain/discomfort and the SF-36 scale BP.