Diabetic renal disease is more common in patients of Asian ethnic origin than White Caucasians in the United Kingdom. This study determines whether a disparity in the incidence of end-stage renal failure secondary to diabetes mellitus exists between these ethnic groups. The incidence of treated end-stage renal failure was estimated using the person-time at risk incidence rate for patients receiving renal replacement therapy secondary to diabetes mellitus in the county of Leicestershire from 1979 to 1988. The incidence rate of end-stage renal failure expressed for the estimated population of patients with diabetes mellitus in patients of Asian ethnic origin was 486.6 (95% CI, 185.1 to 788.1) cases per million person-years per year, compared to 35.6 (17 to 54.2) in White Caucasians. All patients of Asian ethnic origin developing end-stage renal failure had non-insulin-dependent diabetes. The high incidence of end-stage renal failure secondary to diabetes mellitus in patients of Asian ethnic origin in the UK imparts significant public health implications for resource planning and allocation, and the need to initiate strategies to ameliorate renal disease in this ethnic group.