Men and women of African and South Asian ancestry in the United States are increasingly recognized as being at greater risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) than Caucasians of European ancestry. Relatively little data on the genetic and lifestyle risk factors that predispose women to CHD in these ethnic minorities are available. We compared coronary risk factors in a volunteer sample of African-American, Asian Indian American, and Caucasian American women of college age. Life style, dietary, hemodynamic and anthropometric parameters, and laboratory data were sought from 70 subjects in each ethnic group. African-American women were found to have lower triglyceride levels and higher apolipoproten A-1, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), lipoprotein (a) (Lp(a)), fibrinogen, and fasting insulin levels. They also consumed more fat and cholesterol than their peers, had a higher percentage of body fat, body weight, and body mass indexes, and reported less physical activity than Caucasians. Asian Indian American women had higher Lp(a), HDL, and fibrinogen levels than Caucasian American women, and also reported less physical activity. Thus, young African- American and Asian Indian American women have several modifiable risk factors as well as some nontraditional lipid risk factors that warrant consideration for explaining the increased prevalence of CHD in these ethnic groups. The tendency toward peripheral insulin insensitivity and increased body fat in this age group of African-American women suggests diet and exercise may reduce the risk of subsequent CHD.