This article details the scope and the impact of diabetes in the United States including the prevalence, demographics, morbidity and mortality, and costs. The current status of medical care for diabetes is used to illustrate why diabetes should be approached from a proactive public health perspective, rather than a reactive, traditional medical perspective. The importance of early diagnosis and secondary intervention programs for prevention and early detection of diabetes complications are emphasized. The specialty-based intensive management model, the primary care-based co-management model, the systems management model, and the mini-clinic models are presented as potential paradigms for approaching diabetes care from a public health perspective. Requirements for implementing a public health approach to diabetes care including long-term planning, targeting patients for improved care, and goal setting for outcomes of care, are discussed.