This investigation examined the correlation between Helicobacter pylori (HP) infection, as reflected in immunoglobulin G serum antibodies, and the risk of gastric cancer. Serum samples were obtained from populations with contrasting gastric cancer risks. The highest prevalence of HP infection, 93%, was observed in the adult population at highest gastric cancer risk, the residents of Pasto, Colombia. In the lower risk Colombian city of Cali, a 63% overall prevalence rate was found. Both children and adults were sampled in New Orleans, Louisiana, where gastric cancer rates are high for blacks but not for whites. The prevalence of HP infection was significantly higher in black than in white adults, 70% versus 43%, P = 0.0001. A higher prevalence was also detected in black compared with white children, 49% versus 32%, P = 0.01; however, an even greater disparity was noted when comparing children from two hospitals, regardless of race, which serve different socioeconomic groups. A prevalence rate of 54% was found at Charity Hospital compared with 24% (P = 0.0001) at Children's Hospital. Our findings indicate that socioeconomic conditions, known to influence gastric cancer risk, are also important determinants of HP infection.