Diabetes Risk Factors You Should Know About

Some people think that simply eating too much sugar is the main risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, but it’s more complicated than that. There are many lifestyle (as well as genetic) factors that can lead to a person developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Meanwhile, type 1 diabetes (formerly known as juvenile-onset diabetes because it’s usually present from a young age) carries its own set of risk factors that aren’t tied to lifestyle. Let’s take a look at seven risk factors for both types.

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Being Overweight or Obese

This is a major factor when it comes to predicting whether you’ll develop type 2 diabetes. Of course, being overweight can itself be caused by a number of reasons – from poor diet to lack of activity.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases actually breaks down diabetes risk based on body mass index charts. Risk factors change depending on your ethnicity; for example, Asian Americans are at a higher risk for diabetes if they have a BMI ≥23 (measured in kilograms/meter squared [kg/m2], Pacific Islanders have a threshold BMI ≥ 26, and all other ethnicities have the bar set at a BMI ≥ 25.

Family History

The Mayo Clinic posted an article that pertains to type 1 diabetes in particular, which is considered an autoimmune disease, preventing your pancreas from breaking down carbohydrates and decreasing glucose levels in the blood. These functions are essential in regulating blood sugar.

The clinic explains that having a family history of type 1 diabetes also means you have “a slightly increased risk of developing the condition.” There are also certain genes that have been identified that are linked to type 1 diabetes risk.

Birthing Big Babies

Diabetes Canada notes that women who give birth to babies that are heavier than 9-pounds at birth could be at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The source also says that being diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy could also boost your chances of having the disease later in life. Gestational diabetes only develops during pregnancy and can affect the health of the mother and unborn child if not managed through diet and activity (and in some cases, medication).

High Cholesterol

Having high cholesterol levels “the bad cholesterol” (which is known clinically as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol [LDL-C]), in your blood is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, warns some sources. Meanwhile, if you already have developed diabetes, high cholesterol could lead to even bigger problems, notes the American Heart Association.

“Diabetes tends to lower ‘good’ cholesterol levels and raise triglyceride and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke,” notes the source. This is a common condition known clinically as diabetic dyslipidemia.

Lack of Exercise

Even if you don’t eat too many fatty foods, sitting around can raise your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, according to John Muir Health. The source explains that weight loss from eating right and getting exercise “enables muscle cells to use insulin and glucose more efficiently, thus lowering diabetes risk.”

John Muir Health adds that lack of activity can “cause muscle cells to lose their sensitivity to [the hormone that regulates glucose in the blood],” which we already know has an impact on blood sugar levels. Regular exercise will make you stronger and can at least postpone the onset of diabetes.

Other Autoimmune Conditions

EndocrineWeb.com explains that while type 1 diabetes itself is an autoimmune disorder, having other autoimmune diseases can increase the chances of developing it (even beyond childhood).

The source says these other autoimmune diseases can include Graves’ disease (which affects the thyroid gland and causes overproduction of hormones [i.e., hyperthyroidism]), multiple sclerosis, and pernicious anemia (which leads to vitamin B-12 deficiency).


Healthline says age plays a big role in type 2 diabetes. “Middle-aged and older adults are still at the highest risk for developing type 2 diabetes,” says the source, adding that, in 2012, adults aged 45 to 64 were the most diagnosed group and was also the age range developing diabetes at the fastest rate.

Of the 1.7 million new cases of diabetes in 2012, there were 371,000 new cases among patients aged 20 to 44; 892,000 new cases for those aged 45 to 64; and 400,000 new cases diagnosed in the 65 and older population.

Dr. Gerald Morris

Dr. Gerald Morris

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.