Cardiovascular disease is rapidly increasing in developing countries experiencing epidemiological transition. We investigated the prevalence of peripheral atherosclerosis in a rapidly developing country and compared our findings with data previously reported in Western populations. A cardiovascular risk factor survey was conducted in 1067 individuals aged 25-64 randomly selected from the general population of Seychelles. High-resolution ultrasonography of the right and left carotid and femoral arteries was performed in a random subgroup of 503 subjects (245 men and 258 women). In each of the four arteries, arterial wall thickness (in plaque-free segments) and atherosclerotic plaques (i.e. focal wall thickening at least 1.0 mm thick) were measured separately. The prevalence of peripheral atherosclerosis was high in this population. For instance, at least one plaque > or =1.0 mm was found in, respectively, 34.9 and 27.5% of men and women aged 25-34 and at least one plaque > or =2.5 mm was found in, respectively, 58.2 and 36.9% of men and women aged 55-64. With reference to data found in the literature, the prevalence of carotid atherosclerosis appeared to be significantly higher in Seychelles than in Western populations. This study provides further evidence for the importance of cardiovascular disease in developing countries. Determinants should be identified and relevant prevention and control programs implemented.