We studied the odds ratios of seven leading risk variables in a population essentially having a 'low' cholesterol concentration. In a cross-sectional population-based study of 3689 Turkish adults 20 years of age or over, 90 men and 83 women were diagnosed to have definite or suspected coronary heart disease. The criteria were based on history, cardiovascular examination and on Minnesota coding of electrocardiograms. Potential risk factors studied were: plasma total cholesterol (greater than or equal to 240 mg/dl), fasting triglycerides (greater than or equal to 200 mg/dl), diabetes mellitus, hypertension (asystolic greater than or equal to 160 mmHg, diastolic greater than or equal to 95 mmHg, or both, or subjects reporting to take antihypertensive medication), smoking currently or in the past, obesity (body mass index greater than or equal to 30 kg/m(2), and physical inactivity. Hypertension and lack of physical exercise constituted the mast important risk factors in both sexes being valid for all age groups and having high attributable risks; odds ratios in men and women, respectively, were 3.16 and 2.6 for hypertension, and 2.16 and 3.49 for physical inactivity. Hypertriglyceridemia followed these factors in men with an odds ratio of 2.15. In women an additional significant factor was obesity (odds ratio 1.76), while diabetes and hypercholesterolemia revealed to be significant only in those aged 20-59 years, and smoking in women aged 30-59 years. Among men, smoking was a borderline significant risk factor for coronary disease, whereas hypercholesterolemia did not prove to be so. These findings, somewhat at variance with those of industrialized nations, may have significance for policy of cardiovascular disease prevention in third-world populations.