AIMS: To describe the characteristics of newly diagnosed people with Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and compare these with published studies. METHODS: Baseline data of participants recruited to the DESMOND randomized controlled trial conducted in 13 sites across England and Scotland were used. Biomedical measures and questionnaires on psychological characteristics were collected within 4 weeks of diagnosis. RESULTS: Of 1109 participants referred, 824 consented to participate (74.3%). Mean (+/- sd) age was 59.5 +/- 12 years and 54.9% were male. Mean HbA(1c) was 8.1 +/- 2.1% and did not differ by gender. Mean body mass index (BMI) was significantly higher in women (33.7 vs. 31.3 kg/m2; P < 0.001); 69% of women and 54% of men were obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2). Total cholesterol was significantly higher in women (5.6 vs. 5.2 mmol/l; P < 0.001). Overall, 14.7% reported smoking. Percentages reporting recommended levels of vigorous activity (> or = 3 times/week) and moderate activity (> or = 5 times/week) were 10.6 and 16.0%, respectively, and were lower in women. Specific illness beliefs included 73% being unclear about symptoms and only 54% believing diabetes is a serious condition. Symptoms indicative of depression were reported by significantly more women than men (16.1% vs. 8.2%; P = 0.001). CONCLUSION: Data from this large and representative cohort of newly diagnosed people with T2DM show that many have modifiable cardiovascular risk factors. Comparison with the literature suggests that the profile of the newly diagnosed may be changing, with lower HbA1c and higher prevalence of obesity. Many expressed beliefs about and poor understanding of their diabetes that need to be addressed in order for them to engage in effective self-management.