Diabetes Risk Factors & Causes

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Blood Sugar, Diabetes
Last Reviewed 03/28/2014

Diabetes Risk Factors & Causes

While there’s little you can do to prevent developing type 1 diabetes (its number one risk factor is genetic), you have control over most type 2 diabetes risk factors.

Just about anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, but research has identified characteristics that make you more susceptible to the disease. Here they are, broken into two categories: those you cannot control, and those you can.

Diabetes Risk Factors You Cannot Control

First the bad news. There are some type 2 diabetes risk factors that you simply cannot control. They include:

  • Genetics. Some research has found that people who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes typically have at least one close relative with the disease.

  • Age. Most people with type 2 diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed) are age 20 or older, with the highest percentage falling in the 60-and-older age group. However, CDC records show that of the approximately 1.6 million new cases of diabetes that were diagnosed in people age 20 years or older in 2007, most of them (about 819,000) were among people ages 40–59.

  • Ethnicity. Statistics show that diabetes is more common in AfricanAmericans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Diabetes Risk Factors You Can Control

You may not be able to change your age, ethnicity and genetic makeup, but you have significant control over the remaining type 2 diabetes risk factors. That’s because they are overwhelmingly associated with lifestyle.

  • Diet. What you eat has a profound effect on your blood glucose levels and your diabetes risk factors. As early as the 1920s, it was demonstrated that a diet high in saturated fat not only leads to weight gain but also decreases insulin sensitivity. Add to this starches, sugars and other high-glycemic carbohydrates that rapidly break down into glucose and drive up blood sugar levels, and you significantly increase your risk.

  • Weight. One of the most significant type 2 diabetes risk factors is obesity. Statistics show that 90 percent of all people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Where you store those extra pounds is also an issue. If you carry them in the abdominal area, you are at an even greater risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes risk factors. That’s because abdominal fat is more metabolically active than fat stored in the hips or buttocks. It is more easily broken down into free fatty acids that enter the bloodstream, interfere with the action of insulin and raise triglyceride and glucose levels. (Learn more about how obesity leads to insulin resistance.) Fortunately, losing weight often is all it takes to lower type 2 diabetes risk factors.

  • Activity level. Lack of regular exercise lowers insulin sensitivity and increases the possibility of metabolic syndrome, another type 2 diabetes risk factor.

  • Smoking. Everyone knows that smoking increases your risk of cancer, but many probably don’t know that people who smoke are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure—which can make them more susceptible to type 2 diabetes risk factors.

  • Prescription drugs. Drugs that increase your type 2 diabetes risk factors include corticosteroids (typically prescribed to treat asthma and arthritis); thiazide diuretics (often used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure); and beta blockers (drugs used to treat hypertension).

More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diabetes Risk Factors

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