The migration of Tokelauans from a traditional atoll in the Pacific to urban New Zealand is associated with an increased prevalence and incidence of Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus over the period 1968-1982. During the same period, a lesser but definite increase is seen among non-migrants in Tokelau. The age standardised prevalence rates rose from 7.5 and 11.7 to 10.8 and 19.9 per 100 respectively in the male and female migrants compared with an increase from 3.0 and 8.7 to 7.0 and 14.3 per 100 in the non-migrant males and females respectively. The incidence of diabetes is shown to be consistently higher in the migrants compared to the non-migrants giving relative risks of 1.5 in males and 1.9 in females. The factors most likely contributing to this difference, are changes to a higher calorie, high protein diet, higher alcohol consumption, a greater weight gain and altered levels of physical activity in the migrants. A number of populations in the Pacific have been shown to have a low rate of diabetes in their traditional setting, but may have a genetic predisposition for diabetes which responds to factors in the urban industrialised environment and life-style. The social and economic changes taking place in Tokelau are also clearly increasing the risk of diabetes. To reverse these trends and prevent the development of complications of Type 2 diabetes, it will be important to institute preventive programmes and to follow up the population in both environments for long-term outcomes, including mortality.