Diabetic retinopathy has been an important cause of blindness in young and middle age adults in the United States. Epidemiologic studies have quantitated the risk and have described potentially causal factors associated with many ocular complications of diabetes and other facets of this disease. A review of recent advances in diagnosis, treatment, temporal trends, and health care for diabetic retinopathy was conducted. Since the early 1980's, there have been studies of the variability of diabetic retinopathy in populations around the world and subpopulations in the United States which have demonstrated the high prevalences and incidences of this condition. Observational studies and clinical trials have documented the importance of glycemic and blood pressure control in the development and progression of this disease. There are some differences in the importance of confounders in different populations. Epidemiologic data have helped understand the importance of health care and health education in prevention and treatment of this condition. Observational studies have documented the importance of this disease on quality of life. Although there have been advances in understanding the distribution, causes, and severity of diabetic retinopathy, this is ever changing and requires continued monitoring. This is important because the increasing burden of diabetes will place a greater burden on the population and the medical care systems that will be caring for them.