AIM: To determine the extent of gender-related differences in the prevalence of glucose intolerance for the Australian population and whether body size may explain such differences. METHODS: Cross-sectional data were collected from a national cohort of 11 247 Australians aged > or = 25 years. Glucose tolerance status was assessed according to both fasting plasma glucose (FPG) and 2-h plasma glucose (2hPG) levels following a 75-g oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Anthropometric and glycated haemoglobin measurements were also made. RESULTS: Undiagnosed diabetes and non-diabetic glucose abnormalities were more prevalent among men than women when based only on the FPG results (diabetes: men 2.2%, women 1.6%, P = 0.02; impaired fasting glycaemia: men 12.3%, women 6.6%, P < 0.001). In contrast 16.0% of women and 13.0% of men had a 2hPG abnormality (either diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, P = 0.14). Women had a mean FPG 0.3 mmol/l lower than men (P < 0.001), but 2hPG 0.3 mmol/l higher (P = 0.002) and FPG-2hPG increment 0.5 mmol/l greater (P < 0.001). The gender difference in mean 2hPG and FPG-2hPG increment disappeared following adjustment for height. For both genders, those in the shortest height quartile had 2hPG levels 0.5 mmol/l higher than the tallest quartile, but height showed almost no relationship with the FPG. CONCLUSIONS: Men and women had different glycaemic profiles; women had higher mean 2hPG levels, despite lower fasting levels. It appeared that the higher 2hPG levels for women related to lesser height and may be a consequence of using a fixed glucose load in the OGTT, irrespective of body size.