Is diabetes hereditary?

Diabetes loves families! It's true that genetics play a role in your diabetes risk. If you have a parent or sibling with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, your odds are significantly higher. For example, if one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other has a 3 in 4 chance of developing it, too. However, the American Diabetes Association notes that heredity isn't destiny. While you may be genetically predisposed to diabetes, healthy habits, such as watching your weight and exercising, can delay or even prevent diabetes.
Shannon Butler
Nutrition & Dietetics
There is a genetic component in both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes that may make an individual more susceptible to developing the disease. In Type 2 Diabetes, this explains why some obese individuals develop Diabetes and some remain healthy.

Many different genes have been identified which may contribute to Diabetes when coupled with certain environmental triggers throughout the lifespan. In Type 2 Diabetes, most of the genes which have been identified are associated with dysfunction of the Beta cells, and to a lesser extent genes associated with insulin sensitivity and obesity. The Beta cells are responsible for insulin production in the pancreas.

Many susceptibility genes have also been identified for Type 1 Diabetes, but the most studied is the IDDM1 gene on the HLA region on chromosome 6p21. Individuals with certain variants of this gene are more likely to develop Type 1 Diabetes. Environmental exposures, such as viral and bacterial infections, Vitamin D deficiency or early introduction to cow's milk, have been indicated in triggering these genes leading to the development of Type 1 Diabetes. There is also a higher risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes if a parent or sibling has the disease.
Unlike some traits, diabetes does not seem to be inherited in a simple pattern. Yet clearly, some people are born more likely to get diabetes than others.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes. Yet two factors are important in both. First, you must inherit a predisposition to the disease. Second, something in your environment must trigger diabetes.

Genes alone are not enough. One proof of this is identical twins. Identical twins have identical genes. Yet when one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other gets the disease at most only half the time. When one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other's risk is at most three in four.
Ronald Tamler, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Family history is one of the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes and is a risk factor for type 1 diabetes. In this video, Ronald Tamler, MD, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, discusses hereditary risk.

Having parents with diabetes does increase a child's risk of developing the disease. However, the child of diabetic parents is by no means destined to develop diabetes. The degree of risk depends on which type of diabetes is being considered. Type 1 diabetes, which is less common and tends to have earlier onset, is less likely than type 2 to be passed on to offspring. It is more likely that a child will not have the disease than have it, even if both parents are affected. Developing type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with one's diet and level of physical activity. Thus, it is difficult to determine how much of its passage to offspring is due to genetics and how much is due to the fact that members of families tend to have similar lifestyle. If both parents are affected with type 2 diabetes, the child has about a 1-in-2 chance of developing the disease.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.