BACKGROUND: Because of the rapid change in lifestyle in China, there is concern that diabetes may become epidemic. We conducted a national study from June 2007 through May 2008 to estimate the prevalence of diabetes among Chinese adults. METHODS: A nationally representative sample of 46,239 adults, 20 years of age or older, from 14 provinces and municipalities participated in the study. After an overnight fast, participants underwent an oral glucose-tolerance test, and fasting and 2-hour glucose levels were measured to identify undiagnosed diabetes and prediabetes (i.e., impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance). Previously diagnosed diabetes was determined on the basis of self-report. RESULTS: The age-standardized prevalences of total diabetes (which included both previously diagnosed diabetes and previously undiagnosed diabetes) and prediabetes were 9.7% (10.6% among men and 8.8% among women) and 15.5% (16.1% among men and 14.9% among women), respectively, accounting for 92.4 million adults with diabetes (50.2 million men and 42.2 million women) and 148.2 million adults with prediabetes (76.1 million men and 72.1 million women). The prevalence of diabetes increased with increasing age (3.2%, 11.5%, and 20.4% among persons who were 20 to 39, 40 to 59, and > or = 60 years of age, respectively) and with increasing weight (4.5%, 7.6%, 12.8%, and 18.5% among persons with a body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters] of < 18.5, 18.5 to 24.9, 25.0 to 29.9, and > or = 30.0, respectively). The prevalence of diabetes was higher among urban residents than among rural residents (11.4% vs. 8.2%). The prevalence of isolated impaired glucose tolerance was higher than that of isolated impaired fasting glucose (11.0% vs. 3.2% among men and 10.9% vs. 2.2% among women). CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that diabetes has become a major public health problem in China and that strategies aimed at the prevention and treatment of diabetes are needed.