Eighty-four children with mental retardation (34 boys, 50 girls; age range 2-18 years, median 6 years) and 84 age- and gender-matched outpatient controls were studied. All children were living at home, had never stayed in an institution, and came from the same urban area. Seropositivity for Helicobacter pylori was found in 42 (50%) of 84 mentally retarded children and 16 (19%) of 84 controls (p < 0.01). Socio-economic factors did not differ between the two groups. The findings indicated that a higher prevalence of H. pylori infection occurs in children with mental retardation, regardless of whether they are institutionalised.