The hypothesis that the high mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in South Asians settled overseas compared with other populations is due to metabolic disturbances related to insulin resistance was tested in a population survey of 3193 men and 561 women aged 40-69 years in London, UK. The sample was assembled from industrial workforces and general practitioners' lists. In comparison with the European group, the South Asian group had a higher prevalence of diabetes (19% vs 4%), higher blood pressures, higher fasting and post-glucose serum insulin concentrations, higher plasma triglyceride, and lower HDL cholesterol concentrations. Mean waist-hip girth ratios and trunk skinfolds were higher in the South Asian than in the European group. Within each ethnic group waist-hip ratio was correlated with glucose intolerance, insulin, blood pressure, and triglyceride. These results confirm the existence of an insulin resistance syndrome, prevalent in South Asian populations and associated with a pronounced tendency to central obesity in this group. Control of obesity and greater physical activity offer the best chances for prevention of diabetes and CHD in South Asian people.