The concepts of race and ethnicity are useful for understanding the distribution of disease in the population and for identifying at-risk groups for prevention and treatment efforts. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the race and ethnicity classifications in order to more effectively monitor health disparities. Differences in chronic disease mortality rates are contributing to race and ethnic health disparities in life expectancy in the United States. The prevalence of diabetes is higher in African Americans and Hispanics compared to white Americans, and parallel trends are seen in diabetes risk factors, including physical inactivity, dietary patterns, and obesity. Further research is required to determine the extent to which the observed differences in diabetes prevalence are attributable to differences in lifestyle versus other characteristics across race and ethnic groups.