Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

Am I at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes? The answer is: Probably! We’re all at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. But some people have a higher risk due to certain factors. 

When it comes to staying healthy, knowing your risk factors for certain medical conditions, like diabetes, is a good place to begin. Understanding what may put you at a higher risk, especially the factors that you can control, allows you to take steps to lower your risk.

During National Diabetes Month this November, take a few minutes to learn about your risk factors and what you can do to prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that occurs when your blood sugar level is high. This occurs due to a disruption in the balance between your blood sugar and the production or use of insulin in the body.

“Your pancreas, an organ in your endocrine system, produces insulin, a molecule that transports blood sugar to the inside of cells to be used as energy,” says Dr. Olga Nunez, family practice physician with University Health. “After a meal, your blood sugar levels go up, which signals your pancreas to release insulin.”

With Type 1 diabetes, which has a genetic component, blood sugar is high because the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or any insulin at all.

With Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, blood sugar is high because the body doesn’t metabolize (or use) insulin properly, a condition often referenced as insulin resistance. This causes excessive levels of glucose to build up in the blood rather than being used by the body for energy.

Diabetes is incredibly common in the United States, with 1 in 10 Americans having the condition. That’s more than 37 million people. Of that number, up to 95% have Type 2 diabetes.

Know Your Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is believed to be associated with an autoimmune disorder, and at this time, there’s no known way to prevent it. That’s not the case with Type 2 diabetes.

There are some risk factors for Type 2 diabetes that are beyond your control — being age 45 or older, having a family history of diabetes, having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and being African-American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native. But many risk factors for this type of diabetes are what’s known as controllable, meaning they’re things you can change.

You’re at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Don’t get enough quality sleep
  • Drink alcohol excessively
  • Eat a diet high in saturated fat, added sugar and excess sodium
  • Have prediabetes
  • Have high blood pressure 
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Have polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoke

Many Americans have one or more of these risk factors, putting them at an increased risk of developing this form of diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, consider that a red flag signaling that Type 2 diabetes may be ahead. Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is elevated, but not quite to the level of diabetes.

“Risk factors for prediabetes are similar to diabetes,” Nunez says. “Lifestyle modifications have been proven to prevent and even reverse prediabetes.”

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

If you have any of the risk factors above, taking steps to mitigate those factors can help you prevent Type 2 diabetes.

A healthy lifestyle is your best defense. Start by regularly visiting a medical provider for checkups, including routine lab work. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, work with your provider to lower them into a healthy range.

Exercise

Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That sounds like a lot, until you divide it by seven. You only need to get around 22 minutes of exercise each day, such as briskly walking, jogging, dancing or swimming.

Diet

Take a careful look at what’s on your plate, too. Fill half of your plate at meals with fruits and vegetables, supplemented by a small portion of lean protein (like fish, chicken, tofu, or eggs) and whole grains. Limit your intake of processed foods, which often contain unhealthy additives like sugar, sodium and saturated fat.

Sleep

Prioritize getting enough quality sleep. Aim for between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night, adjusting your bedtime habits as needed. 

Healthy Habits

You can also lower your risk by including other healthy habits into your routine, such as minimizing your alcohol intake, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, finding sustainable ways to manage stress, and quitting smoking if you smoke.

Diabetes Care at University Health

Learn more about the world-class diabetes care for adults and children at University Health.

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