OBJECTIVE: The incidence of congenital hypothyroidism (CH) has been shown to vary among different parts of the world. This could result from environmental or hereditary factors. Studies of other congenital diseases have shown that immigrants tend to retain the incidence of their country of origin while their children acquire the incidence of their new homeland, suggesting an environmental influence. This study aimed to assess the differences in the incidence of CH among immigrants from different parts of the world and to study the effects of immigration on its occurrence. METHODS: During the 9-year period between 1979 and 1987, 196 Jewish infants with primary CH were born in Israel; this constitutes an incidence of 1:3354 live births. We collected data from hospitals, endocrine pediatric clinics and the children's parents regarding the birth place of the parents and grandparents of those infants. These data were compared with the birth place of the parents and grandparents of all infants born in Israel during that period in order to learn about the incidence of CH among infants of different origins and to compare the incidence between children of parents born in Israel and those of immigrants of the same grandparental origin. RESULTS: CH incidence was lower among offspring of mothers and fathers of Israeli origin (1:4717 and 1:4255 live births respectively) and higher among those of African mothers (1:2950) and Asian fathers (1:2941). Parents of Asian or African origin, born in Israel have a lower incidence of CH-affected children compared with parents of the same origin born in their own continent. This trend is reversed for European and American parents, for whom being born in Israel is related to an increase in the CH incidence in their children. The difference in CH incidence between offspring of parents born in Israel and those of parents born in their original country was statistically significant (P < 0.05). In the different origin groups the gender of the parent did not influence significantly the incidence of CH. CONCLUSIONS: Environmental changes resulting from immigration can influence the incidence of congenital hypothyroidism.