The aim of this study was to analyse the characteristics and the mortality rate of diabetic patients, in France, between 1970 and 1987, as well as the association between diabetes and other pathologies at death. These results are based on both the underlying and the associated causes of death registered on the death certificate, in contrast to most studies which use only the underlying cause. In 1987, there were 16,790 deaths in France for which diabetes was mentioned on the death certificate (as the underlying cause in 38% of cases). There was a higher mortality in male diabetic subjects then in female, for all ages except over 75 years. Between 1970 and 1987, the mortality decreased for both sexes, except for the oldest age group. The death rate varied greatly between geographical regions. A particularly high mortality occurred in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Lorraine and Alsace. Diabetes was significantly associated, at death, with other diseases and pathologies. The most frequent were vascular diseases (ischaemic heart disease, cerebral diseases and hypertension) and diseases of the genitourinary system. It if of note that 5% of the death certificates of these diabetic subjects indicated diabetic coma as a cause of death.