The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab) addresses the urgent need for data on diabetes prevalence, risk factors and associated conditions in Australia. Here we describe the methods used and the response rates obtained. AusDiab was a population-based cross-sectional survey of national diabetes mellitus prevalence and associated risk factors in people aged > or =25 years, conducted between May 1999 and December 2000 in the six states and the Northern Territory of Australia. The study involved an initial household interview, followed by a biomedical examination that included an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), standard anthropometric tests, blood pressure measurements and the administration of questionnaires. Of the 20347 eligible people (aged > or =25 years and resident at the address for > or =6 months) who completed a household interview, 11247 (55.3%) attended for the biomedical examination. Of those who completed the biomedical examination 55.1% were female. Comparisons with the 1998 Australian population estimates showed that younger age responders were under-represented at the biomedical examination, while the middle-aged and older age groups were over-represented. Weighting of the AusDiab data for age and gender have corrected for this bias. AusDiab, which is the largest national diabetes prevalence study undertaken in a developed nation to have used an OGTT, provides a valuable national resource for the study of the prevalence and possible causes of diabetes, as well as identifying possible risk factors that may lead to diabetes. Furthermore, it generates the baseline data for a prospective 5-year cohort study. The data will be important for national and regional public health and lifestyle education and health promotion programs.