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10 Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

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More than 400 million people were living with diabetes as of 2015, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

There are three major types of the diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. Of the three, Type 2 is the most common.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 90 percent of people around the world diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2.

type 2 diabetes diagram

In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but the cells are not able to use the insulin as well as they should. This is what experts call “insulin resistance”.

Initially, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to move glucose into the cells. But eventually, it can’t keep up and the sugar builds up in the bloodstream, leading to a high blood sugar level.

Many people with Type 2 diabetes are not even aware they have the disease, and this can contribute to various health complications associated with it. This makes it even more important to know the risk factors.

There are both non-modifiable as well as modifiable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. While you cannot do much about the non-modifiable risk factors, there are many that you can control to help prevent yourself from developing this disease.

risk factors of type 2 diabetes

Here are 10 risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

1. Family History

Your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes is high if one of your parents or a sibling has it.

family history of diabetes increases diabetes risk

According to the American Diabetes Association, your risk is:

  • 1 in 7 if one of your parents was diagnosed with diabetes before age 50.
  • 1 in 13 if one of your parents was diagnosed with diabetes after age 50.
  • 1 in 2 if both your parents have diabetes.

When combined with diabetes triggers like your diet and exposure to certain viruses, your risk for developing diabetes increases. Though you cannot do much about the genetic predisposition, you can certainly strive to avoid the triggers.

2. Race or Ethnic Background

Apart from family history, people belonging to certain races or ethnicities are more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes. Hispanics, African-Americans, Hawaiians, Native Americans and Asians are at an increased risk of developing diabetes.

ethnicity risk factor for diabetes

A 2016 study published in Diabetes Care reports that the risk of diabetes is significantly higher among Asians, Hispanics and blacks than among whites, before and after taking into account differences in body mass index.

So, if you are of African-American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Islander descent, it’s time to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.

3. Age

Your risk of Type 2 diabetes increases as you get older. Most often, it occurs in middle-aged adults, say after age 45. This can be due to the fact that people tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight with increasing age.

age diabetes risk factor

However, this type of diabetes is occurring in children, adolescents and younger adults more and more nowadays, mainly due to unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Health experts recommend all adults, beginning at age 40, have their blood sugar level checked every few months. Early diagnosis is key to preventing or managing Type 2 diabetes.

4. History of Gestational Diabetes

If you developed diabetes during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, then you are at an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes.

gestational diabetes risk for type 2 diabetes

A 2013 study published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reports that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy face a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Also, giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

This is a modifiable risk factor, and you can decrease your risk by leading an active lifestyle and maintaining a healthy body weight.

5. Overweight or Obesity

Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes.

being overweight increases chances of diabetes

Being overweight stresses the inner part of individual cells called endoplasmic reticulum (ER). When the ER has more nutrients to process than it can handle, it causes the cells to dampen down the insulin receptors on the cell surface. This leads to persistently high concentrations of glucose in the blood.

Moreover, if your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen, your risk of Type 2 diabetes is greater than if your body stores fat elsewhere, such as your hips and thighs.

One good thing about this risk factor is that by losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight, you can cut your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

6. Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity is another top modifiable risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. The less active you are, the greater your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Moreover, physical activity helps weight loss, uses up glucose as energy and makes the cells more sensitive to insulin.

physical inactivity increases diabetes risk

A 2011 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that ceasing regular physical activity impairs glycemic control (control of blood sugar levels), suggesting that inactivity may play a key role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Aim to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or a combination of the two with muscle-strengthening at least two days per week. 

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