Mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and end-stage renal failure are high in South Asian migrants in the UK. This is associated with high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension. These seem to be manifestations of a metabolic syndrome with insulin resistance (hyperinsulinaemia) and central obesity (based on high waist-to-hip ratio rather than on conventional measures of body mass index). This is associated with sedentary lifestyle, high serum triglycerides and low HDL-cholesterol. Mortality from stroke and end-stage renal failure are high in black migrants to the UK (both Caribbeans and West Africans). However, CHD mortality is low in this group. This pattern of mortality is associated with high prevalence of hypertension and diabetes. This group tends to be obese (particularly women) according to conventional measures of body mass index and to have hyperinsulinaemia, low serum triglycerides and high HDL-cholesterol. Conventional risk factors such as cigarette smoking and hypercholesterolaemia are less prevalent in ethnic minority populations in the United Kingdom and unlikely to explain the differences seen between groups, although each risk factor is likely to contribute to the variation in vascular disease within each group. There is difficulty in reconciling the results of migration studies (eg, from rural to urban environments) pointing to major environmental influences on the changes in cardiovascular risk factors with the consistent pattern of disease of ethnic groups across the world and in subsequent generations, suggesting a certain degree of genetic susceptibility. Important environment-gene interplays might be underlying some of these processes. The detection and management of hypertension and diabetes are still unsatisfactory in inner city areas and show variations by ethnic origin. Strategies for the control of CHD and stroke adopted in European countries directed mostly to white populations may be inappropriate for ethnic minority populations.