Recently, the presence of small, dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL) has been recognized as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. There has been little work on correlates of LDL size in population-based studies and none in Mexican Americans. We examined the relationship of LDL size and pattern to anthropometric and metabolic variables in 466 Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites in the San Antonio Heart Study. LDL size in Angstrom units was significantly lower in Mexican Americans (255.8+0.6) than in non-Hispanic whites (257.9±0.7) p»=0.041) after adjustment for gender and age. The percentage of subjects with pattern B tended to be higher in Mexican Americans than in non-Hispanic whites (40.0% versus 34.4%, respectively), although this difference did not reach statistical significance. In univariate analysis, LDL size was significantly associated with glucose (r=.20), insulin (r=.19), male gender (r=.2O), total cholesterol (r= .22), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) (r=.53), and triglyceride concentrations (r=.63). In multivariate analyses, higher triglyceride, insulin, and glucose concentrations, lower HDL-C, and male gender were independent correlates of smaller, denser LDL. Correlates of LDL size were similar in Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites. Our results confirm previous reports that triglyceride and HDL-C concentrations are the most important variables associated with LDL size. The additional findings of independent effects of male gender, glucose, and insulin concentrations suggest that sex hormones and the insulin resistance syndrome may also play an important role. Mexican Americans did have significantly smaller LDL, but this appears to be associated with higher triglyceride, glucose, and insulin concentrations in this population.