Plasma glucose, insulin, FFA, glucagon, and GH concentrations were measured over an 8-h period in normal subjects and patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Meals were consumed at 0800 h (20% of daily calories) and noon (40% of daily calories), and measurements were made hourly from 0800-1600 h. Day-long plasma glucose, insulin, and FFA concentrations were higher than normal (by two-way analysis of variance) in patients with NIDDM, whether obese or nonobese. In addition, day-long plasma glucagon concentrations were also higher than normal (by two-way analysis of variance) in both nonobese and obese patients with NIDDM. Furthermore, direct relationships were found between the total plasma glucagon response from 0800-1600 h and total plasma glucose (r = 0.57; P less than 0.001) and FFA (r = 0.30; P less than 0.06) responses. In contrast, plasma GH levels were not increased in patients with NIDDM. These data demonstrate that ambient plasma concentrations of both glucose and FFA are higher in patients with NIDDM, despite the fact that coexisting plasma insulin levels are equal to or higher than normal. The higher day-long plasma glucagon levels in patients with NIDDM may contribute to their higher plasma glucose and FFA concentrations.