Screening programmes for community coronary heart disease risk factors aim to identify persons who are at a high risk of the development of coronary heart disease by screening the population for the prevalence of smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol concentrations. The effectiveness of such screening programmes is dependent on a number of factors. The characteristics of individuals who attend such screening programmes voluntarily, and the prevalence of abnormal coronary heart disease risk factors that is detected, give a strong indication of the population reach and the potential benefits of the preventive strategy. In this study, persons who attended a self-referred risk-factor screening programme for coronary heart disease were compared with a random sample of the Australian urban population. A disproportionately high number of older persons and of women presented for the self-referred screening programme while smokers were underrepresented. In general, the risk-factor levels of those in the older age-groups who attended the screening programme were lower than were the corresponding measurements that were found in the random sample; the opposite was true for those in the younger age-groups. These results suggest that coronary heart disease risk-factor screening programmes in the community appeal more to those in the health-conscious older age-groups and to women. For heart disease prevention programmes to be more effective, it will be necessary to design screening programmes to attract more men, those in younger age-groups and smokers.