What are the risk factors for diabetes?

Risk factors for diabetes include:

  • Age: Predominantly a disease of later life, diabetes generally develops after age 40, although the typical age of onset has become lower. People over age 65 are at particularly high risk.
  • Family history: Having a first-degree relative with diabetes raises the risk.
  • Ethnicity: The disease is far more common among African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans than among whites.
  • Obesity or overweight: Of the more than one million Americans who develop diabetes annually, most are overweight or obese. The distribution of body fat also seems to be particularly important. People who tend to store fat in the abdominal area are more likely to become diabetic than those who put it on around the hips.
  • High blood pressure: Risk rises at 140/90 mm Hg and above.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Exercising fewer than three days a week increases risk.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Women with PCOS usually have glucose resistance or other diabetes risk factors.
  • Gestational diabetes: This form of the disease begins during pregnancy and usually resolves after delivery, but many women with this problem later develop diabetes, usually five to 10 years after the pregnancy.
  • Prediabetes: Fasting blood glucose levels of 100 to 125 mg/dl or oral glucose tolerance test levels of 140 to 199 mg/dl.
  • Medication use: Some drugs can increase insulin resistance or decrease insulin secretion. These include corticosteroids, diuretics, beta blockers, and a class of drugs called atypical or second-generation antipsychotics, originally developed to treat schizophrenia.

Overweight is one of the most common risk factors for developing diabetes. Other risk factors are:

  • Being inactive
  • Age greater than 45 years
  • History of diabetes in a close family member
  • History of gestational diabetes (diabetes occurring during pregnancy)
  • Delivering a baby weighing 9 or more pounds
  • High triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL—also called "good" cholesterol)

The number of people with diabetes is on the rise worldwide, and while it's still unclear exactly what causes diabetes to develop in some people and not in others, several genetic and lifestyle factors are known to increase a person's risk of type 2 diabetes. Following are risk factors for diabetes:

  • Age: Being 45 or older is considered a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and the risk continues to increase with age.
  • Ethnic background: People whose ethnic background is African American, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latino/Hispanic, or Pacific Islander have an increased risk of diabetes.
  • Family history of diabetes: Having a parent or sibling with diabetes raises your risk.
  • Physical inactivity: A lack of regular physical activity (defined as 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week) increases your risk.
  • Overweight and obesity: Having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Check your BMI.
  • Gestational diabetes: Women with a history of gestational diabetes or who've given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome): Women with PCOS have a greater risk of diabetes.
  • Hypertension: Having high blood pressure or taking blood pressure medication increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: HDL is the good cholesterol, so higher numbers are better. An HDL level of 35 mg/dL (0.9 mmol/L) or lower is a risk factor for diabetes.
  • High triglycerides: A triglyceride level of 250 mg/dL (2.82 mmol/L) or more raises your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

The risk factors for type 1 diabetes are not well understood, but a family history is believed to raise the odds of developing the disease.

A number of factors can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • having a family history of the disease
  • being over age 45
  • having impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose
  • being overweight (especially having excess abdominal fat)
  • a lack of exercise
  • low HDL cholesterol
  • high triglycerides
  • high blood pressure
  • having a history of gestational diabetes
  • having given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds

Certain racial and ethnic groups have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders.

There are many risk factors that can increase your risk for acquiring diabetes. These include age greater than 45 years (although childhood onset is increasing), obesity with a weight greater than 120% of optimal body weight, family history of type 2 diabetes in a first-degree relative, certain ethnic groups (Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian American or Pacific Islander), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of gestational diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, schizophrenia and depression.

There are several risk factors for diabetes. For example, family history is a risk factor for types 1 and 2 diabetes. Being overweight and inactive are some of the largest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, as are certain ethnicities; for some reason, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asian Americans are especially prone to type 2 diabetes. Women who develop diabetes while pregnant, also known as gestational diabetes, are predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes, as are their babies, after pregnancy. Age also plays a factor. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in whites and in children and young adults, while type 2 diabetes typically develops in adults 45 years and older. However, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents is increasing rapidly.

Obesity greatly increases the risk for diabetes, as does having an affected family member. African Americans are also at higher risk. In fact, African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as the general population, and the rate of diagnosed diabetes in the African American community has tripled in the past 30 years, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The exact cause of diabetes is not known, but some of the factors are thought to be changes in the body’s metabolism with age, made worse by being overweight and by not exercising.

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The risk factors associated with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are different. For both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, having a family history of diabetes puts you at a higher risk for developing the disease than a person with no family history of diabetes. However, many people with type 1 diabetes have no known family history of the disease. Type 1 diabetes is more common among whites than among members of other racial groups. In contrast, members of American Indian, African American, and Hispanic ethnic groups are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

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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.