We examined 51 black and 35 Hispanic consecutive patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus from similar socioeconomic backgrounds who were evaluated initially for diabetic retinopathy. The mean ages were 58 years for the Hispanics and 53 years for the blacks (P greater than .05). Sixty-five percent of the Hispanics were women, as were 68.6% of the blacks (P greater than .05). The mean duration between the diagnosis of the diabetes mellitus and the initial diagnosis of the retinopathy was 11.5 years for the Hispanics and 12.2 years for the blacks (P = .671). The percentage of patients with severe diabetic retinopathy (preproliferative or proliferative) at the time of initial diagnosis was 42.9% for the Hispanics and 37.3% for the blacks (P greater than .10). Although no significant differences were found between the two groups, the high percentage of patients in both groups (42.9% and 37.3%) with severe diabetic retinopathy at the time of initial presentation suggests that earlier patient referral from primary-care physicians and better patient education about the need for earlier eye examinations should be encouraged in these two groups.