Type 2 diabetes arises from a complex and multifactorial set of factors, including genetic susceptibility, behaviour (including diet and exercise), early nutrition, obesity and psychosocial stress, leading to insulin resistance and pancreatic failure. These factors in turn are influenced by social and physical environmental factors. Each of these may be important determinants of the high prevalence and incidence of type 2 diabetes in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Public health interventions for primary and secondary prevention need to recognize this complexity. Although a reduction in the prevalence of obesity or diabetes in the short-medium term is rarely if ever achieved, there are documented examples of community-based programs which have been effective in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its cardiovascular complications. Such interventions need to be community-directed and appropriate to local circumstances in order to be effective.