Men who participated in the Whitehall survey and were found to be glucose intolerant have been studied 6--8 years later, together with a control group of men with normal screening blood-sugar levels. Ophthalmoscopically visible microvascular retinal disease was confined to men diagnosed as probably diabetic after the survey because their 2 h blood-sugar level (after a 50 g oral glucose load) in the survey examination or during a subsequent standard oral glucose-tolerance test was greater than or equal to 200 mg/dl (11.1 mmol/l). The lowest blood-sugar in a "diabetic" subsequently found to have retinopathy was 229 mg/dl. Men with lesser degrees of glucose intolerance, including 34 who had "worsened to diabetes", did not have visible retinovascular disease at follow-up. If diabetes implies a risk of specific microvascular complications in the medium term, then the findings in this study support proposals for the revision of diagnostic criteria based on glucose-tolerance tests.