The World Health Organization (WHO) MONICA Project is a 10-year study monitoring trends and determinants of cardiovascular disease in geographically defined populations. Data were collected from over 100 000 randomly selected participants in two risk factor surveys conducted approximately 5 years apart in 38 populations using standardized protocols. The net effects of changes in the risk factor levels were estimated using risk scores derived from longitudinal studies in the Nordic countries. The prevalence of cigarette smoking decreased among men in most populations, but the trends for women varied. The prevalence of hypertension declined in two-thirds of the populations. Changes in the prevalence of raised total cholesterol were small but highly correlated between the genders (r = 0.8). The prevalence of obesity increased in three-quarters of the populations for men and in more than half of the populations for women. In almost half of the populations there were statistically significant declines in the estimated coronary risk for both men and women, although for Beijing the risk score increased significantly for both genders. The net effect of the changes in the risk factor levels in the 1980s in most of the study populations of the WHO MONICA Project is that the rates of coronary disease are predicted to decline in the 1990s.