Diabetes Risk Factors

Disparities in diabetes risk:

  • People from minority populations are more frequently affected by type 2 diabetes. Minority groups constitute 25 percent of all adult patients with diabetes in the United States and represent the majority of children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes.
  • African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes prevalence rates among American Indians are 2 to 5 times those of whites. On average, African American adults are 1.7 times as likely and Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans are twice as likely to have the disease as non-Hispanic whites of similar age.

Source: Healthy People (DHHS)1

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Back to: « Diabetes

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School Environment Affects Diabetes Risk

Healthier foods at school, longer and more intense physical activity and lessons in healthy lifestyles can reduce obesity and other risk factors for diabetes. These findings, from an NIH-funded study, suggest that school-based changes might help at-risk kids improve their health.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)2

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At Risk for Diabetes?

If you’re over 45, ask your health care provider about testing for pre-diabetes or diabetes. You should also ask about testing if you’re younger than 45, overweight, and have another risk factor, such as you:

  • are 45 or older
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are overweight
  • have an inactive lifestyle (exercise less than three times a week)
  • are a member of a high-risk ethnic population such as African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • have high blood pressure
  • have a low HDL cholesterol level or a high triglyceride level
  • have had diabetes that developed during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or have given birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder that affects the female reproductive system
  • have acanthosis nigricans (dark, thick skin near neck or armpits)
  • have a history of disease of the blood vessels to the heart, brain or legs
  • have had an impaired glucose reading in a previous test

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)3

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Some populations have higher rates of diabetes. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders develop type 2 diabetes more often than white Americans.

But obesity and physical inactivity may be greater risk factors than a person’s genes.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body has problems producing or using insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. For people living a Western lifestyle—with low physical activity levels and a high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber diet—a family history of type 2 diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for getting the disease. But people living in non-Westernized areas appear to get less type 2 diabetes regardless of their genetic risk.

“We know that there are genetic factors involved, but it’s clear that lifestyle, food habits and the amount of physical activity play very important roles in the development of type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Saul Malozowski of NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explained.

Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, for example, traditional plant- and fish-based diets are being replaced with more animal protein, animal fats and processed carbohydrates. This could be a reason why diabetes is a growing problem among those populations in the United States. People who are inactive and eat a diet high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

“Being overweight and sedentary is an unhealthy combination,” said Dr. James Gavin, III, past chair of the National Diabetes Education Program and clinical professor of medicine at Emory University’s School of Medicine. “It becomes even more risky when you add a genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes.”

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)4

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Are You at Risk for Diabetes and Prediabetes?

If you are 45 or older, especially if you’re overweight, talk to your health care provider about testing for diabetes and prediabetes. If you’re under 45, ask about your risk for prediabetes or diabetes and whether you should get tested if:

  • You have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes.
  • You’re overweight.
  • Your family background is African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander.
  • You’ve had diabetes while pregnant or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • You’ve been told that your blood glucose or cholesterol (lipid) levels are not normal.
  • Your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher or have been told that you have high blood pressure.
  • You’re fairly inactive, doing physical activity less than 3 times a week.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)5

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Are there disorders or conditions that can contribute to or are associated with diabetes?

Yes, starting with overweight. When you’re overweight or obese, your risk for diabetes is higher.

Other conditions that can increase diabetes risk include:

Also, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of infertility in women, is associated with diabetes, meaning that women who have PCOS are at higher risk for diabetes.2

Source: NICHD (NIH)6

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The main risk factors are well known:

These are important risk factors contributing to the development of micro and macro-vascular complications. The indicator for overweight is the percentage of persons with diabetes seen annually with a Body Mass Index (BMI) > 25 kg/m². The indicator for obesity is the percentage of persons with diabetes seen annually with a BMI > 30 kg/m². Being overweight and obese makes insulin resistance progress. This increases the risk of macro and micro-vascular complications. Height and weight measurements to calculate these indicators should be taken once a year in order to be able to calculate BMI in a reliable way.

Being overweight can be prevented by regular physical activity. Regular physical activity improves blood sugar control in persons who already have T2D.

  • Glucose Tolerance

Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) is a condition closely related to Type 2 diabetes. It occurs when the blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. People with IGT have a 1 in 3 chance of developing Type 2 diabetes within 10 years, but this can be minimised through healthy eating and physical activity.

Up to 60 percent of people with undiagnosed diabetes have high blood pressure.

More than 40% of people with diabetes have abnormal levels of cholesterol and similar fatty substances that circulate in the blood. These abnormalities appear to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease among persons with diabetes.

Source: EC (EU)7

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What are the risk factors for diabetes?

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in developing this type of diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and people with a family history of diabetes than in other groups. Obesity is also associated with higher risk. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35% to 60% chance of developing diabetes in the next 10-20 years.

Other specific types of diabetes, which may account for 1% to 5% of all diagnosed cases, result from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses.

Source: CDC8

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Am I at risk for diabetes?

A risk factor is something that puts you at a higher risk for a disease compared with an average person.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes in women and girls include:

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes in women and girls include:[4]

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about ways to lower your risk for diabetes. You can also take the Diabetes Risk Test and talk about the results with your doctor.

Source: OWH (DHHS)9

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Diabetes Risk Factors

There are many factors that increase your risk for diabetes. To find out about your risk, note each item on this list that applies to you.

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, a serious disease in which blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal. Most people with diabetes have type 2, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes. At one time, type 2 diabetes was more common in people over age 45. But now more young people, even children, have the disease because many are overweight or obese.

  • I am 45 years of age or older.
  • The At-Risk Weight Chart shows my current weight puts me at risk. http://ndep.nih.gov/am-i-at-risk/DiabetesRiskFactors.aspx#weightcharts
  • I have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
  • My family background is African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
  • I have had diabetes while I was pregnant (this is called gestational diabetes) or I gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • I have been told that my blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than normal.
  • My blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, or I have been told that I have high blood pressure.
  • My cholesterol (lipid) levels are not normal. My HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) is less than 35 or my triglyceride level is higher than 250.
  • I am fairly inactive. I am physically active less than three times a week.
  • I have been told that I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • The skin around my neck or in my armpits appears dirty no matter how much I scrub it. The skin appears dark, thick and velvety. This is called acanthosis nigricans.
  • I have been told that I have blood vessel problems affecting my heart, brain, or legs.
  • If you have any of the items above, be sure to talk with your health care team about your risk for diabetes and whether you should be tested. Diabetes is preventable.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)10

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Depression: People with depression have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, for example. Research also suggests that people with depression are at higher risk for osteoporosis relative to others. The reasons are not yet clear.

Source: NIMH (NIH)11

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Inactivity: A lack of physical activity in childhood raises the risk for obesity and the many health problems it can contribute to later in life, including heart disease and diabetes. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all, days.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)12

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Sleep Deficiency: Diabetes

Insufficient sleep has been associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. A study funded by the NIH, for example, reported that the duration and quality of sleep can predict a person's levels of hemoglobin A1c, which health care providers measure to monitor blood sugar levels.5

Source: NICHD (NIH)13

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Gestational Diabetes: Gestational Diabetes

If you had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, you and your child have a lifelong risk for getting diabetes.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)14

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  1. Source: Healthy People (DHHS): healthypeople.gov/ 2020/ topics-objectives/ topic/ diabetes
  2. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ issue/ sep2010/ capsule1
  3. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ 2006/ July/ docs/ 01features_02.htm
  4. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ 2005/ November2005/ docs/ 01features_02.htm
  5. ibid.
  6. Source: NICHD (NIH): nichd.nih.gov/ health/ topics/ diabetes/ conditioninfo/ Pages/ faqs.aspx
  7. Source: EC (EU): ec.europa.eu/ health/ major_chronic_diseases/ diseases/ diabetes_en
  8. Source: CDC: cdc.gov/ diabetes/ basics/ diabetes.html
  9. Source: OWH (DHHS): womenshealth.gov/ a-z-topics/ diabetes
  10. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ fall14/ articles/ fall14pg12-13.html
  11. Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ publications/ chronic-illness-mental-health-2015/ index.shtml
  12. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ 2008/ September/ capsules.htm
  13. Source: NICHD (NIH): nichd.nih.gov/ health/ topics/ sleep/ conditioninfo/ Pages/ inadequate-sleep.aspx
  14. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ fall14/ articles/ fall14pg12-13.html

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.