Mauritius, a multiethnic island nation in the southwestern Indian Ocean, has one of the world's highest diabetes mortality rates. The prevalence of both impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) was investigated in 5080 Muslim and Hindu Indian, Creole (mixed African, European, and Indian origin), and Chinese Mauritian adults aged 25-74 yr who were selected by random cluster sampling. Based on a 75-g oral glucose tolerance test and World Health Organization criteria, the age-standardized prevalence of IGT was significantly greater in women (19.7%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 18.1-21.2) than in men (11.7%, CI 10.5-12.8). By contrast, the prevalence of NIDDM was similar in men (12.1%, CI 10.9-13.4) and women (11.7%, CI 10.5-12.8) for all ethnic groups combined. The sex difference in IGT prevalence was seen in all ethnic groups, but for NIDDM, the sex difference was not consistent across ethnic groups. However, age- and sex-standardized prevalence of IGT and NIDDM was remarkably similar across ethnic groups (16.2 and 12.4% in Hindu Indians, 15.3 and 13.3% in Muslim Indians, 17.5 and 10.4% in Creoles, and 16.6 and 11.9% in Chinese, respectively). Three new cases of diabetes were diagnosed for every two known cases. The high prevalence of abnormal glucose tolerance in Indian subjects is consistent with studies of other migrant Indian communities, but the findings in Creole and, in particular, Chinese subjects are unexpected. Potent environmental factors shared between ethnic groups in Mauritius may be responsible for the epidemic of glucose intolerance.