Diabetes mellitus is occurring in epidemic proportions in many countries. In Australia 7.4% of people over 25 years of age have diabetes (mostly type 2) and comparable or higher prevalences have been reported in the United States and a number of Asian countries. The enormous economic and social cost of this disease makes a compelling case for prevention. Epidemiological studies have shown clearly that type 2 diabetes results from an interaction between a genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors including obesity, sedentary behaviour and both calorie excess and various dietary constituents. The natural history of type 2 diabetes includes a preceding period of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)/impaired fasting glucose (IFG) which provides an opportunity for targeted intervention within large communities. Lifestyle intervention studies have consistently shown that quite modest changes can reduce the progression from IGT to diabetes by 50-60%. It may, however, not be possible to translate these successful findings to larger cohorts or maintain the lifestyle changes longer term. This has lead to consideration of pharmacotherapy. While small studies with sulphonylureas are inconclusive, benefits have been found for metformin, acarbose and troglitazone. Big intervention studies with ramipril, rosiglitazone, valsartan and nateglinide are underway. Pharmacological intervention raises a whole range of ethical, economic and practical issues not the least of which is the problem of long term therapy of the 'otherwise well'.