The Asia-Pacific region is at the forefront of the current epidemic of diabetes. There are currently more than 30 million people with diabetes in the Western Pacific region alone. The World Health Organization predicts that this number will rise dramatically by the year 2025, by which time India and China may each face the problem of dealing with 50 million affected individuals. The problem in the region results from a combination of large population size with rapidly rising prevalence rates, particularly of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Although much heterogeneity exists, rising prevalence rates are being seen throughout the region and appear to be closely associated with westernisation, urbanisation, and mechanisation. The risk for diabetes appears to result from a combination of genetic predisposition and lifestyle change. The most important lifestyle changes relate to changes in dietary habits and physical activity and diabetes risk, particularly in younger individuals, is associated with the development of obesity and particularly central obesity. In some populations, for example Chinese, the relationship between diabetes and weight gain begins to appear at levels of body weight that would not be conventionally regarded as representing obesity. The increasing trend for type 2 diabetes to develop in young people is of particular concern. In children and adolescents in some parts of the region, type 2 diabetes now outnumbers type 1 diabetes by a ratio of 4:1. In view of the severity of the long-term complications of diabetes, the health consequences of this epidemic will become increasingly devastating and threaten to overwhelm the health care systems in the most vulnerable countries. There is an urgent need for prioritisation of diabetes as a key issue by governments throughout the region. Diabetes prevention programmes can be justified on economic, as well as humanitarian grounds. At the level of primary prevention, such programmes can be linked to other non-communicable disease prevention programmes which also target lifestyle-related issues.