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5 Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes [2023]

Written by: Content Team



Time to read 9 min

Millions of people get diagnosed with diabetes every day, and millions have no idea they're diabetic. Luckily, the earlier you discover if you're susceptible to diabetes, the better your chances of preventing it.


That's where knowing diabetes risk factors come in. Awareness helps you understand the different lifestyle habits, health conditions, and genetic factors that might lead you toward diabetes.

Top 5 Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

A man is walking to decide on the type of lifestyle to mitigate the risk factors for type diabetes
A man is walking to decide on the type of lifestyle to mitigate the risk factors for type diabetes. Image Source

There's a strong genetic component to type 2 diabetes, which means it often runs in the family. 


However, just because your relatives were diabetic doesn't mean you will be. It depends on several factors, such as your lifestyle, eating habits, level of activity, and overall health.


Let's look at the top five risk factors for type 2 diabetes that you can change to prevent or manage the disease.

1. Body Weight

If you're overweight or obese, you have a much higher chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and other health problems. Studies have shown that about 90% of people with diabetes are also classified as overweight or obese.


The problem with obesity is that the higher your body fat percentage, the more resistant your cells become to insulin. The excess fat causes inflammation in your body, which makes your cells ignore insulin's orders; hence, insulin resistance.


This is why losing weight can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. You don't need to lose too much weight—just 10-15 pounds can greatly affect your overall health.


Maintaining a healthy weight can also help lower blood glucose levels, improve lipid profile, and prevent high blood pressure. As the American Diabetes Association says, "extra weight, extra risk", so starting a weight loss journey can change your life.


You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) and your waist circumference to determine your risk of developing diabetes. Generally, a BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight, but you can use a BMI Calculator for tailored results.


According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a 40+ inch waist in men and a 35+ inch waist in women are risk factors for diabetes.

Tips for Reaching a Healthy Weight Goal

  • Stay physically active whenever you can and try to avoid sitting down for long periods

  • Make sure to eat breakfast every day and cut back on excess calories or unhealthy snacks

  • Weigh yourself at least once a week and keep a record to track your progress

  • Take small steps, not drastic lifestyle changes, so you don't revert to old habits later on

  • Have a support system to share your successes, struggles, and goals and keep you motivated

2. Sedentary Lifestyle (Physical Activity)

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is another major risk factor for diabetes. The most obvious reason we should be physically active is to avoid obesity, the first risk factor. However, there's another important reason physical activity can help prevent type 2 diabetes.


When you exercise or do any form of physical activity, your body pushes more glucose into your muscles to be burnt for energy. The more glucose your body burns as fuel, the lower your blood glucose levels will be and the less likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes.


Physical activity also makes your muscles much more sensitive to insulin, which means even a small amount of insulin can be enough to regulate your blood glucose levels. With sufficient weekly exercise, you're less likely to develop insulin resistance.

Tips for improving your physical activity Levels

All of the following can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve your overall cardiovascular health:


  • A 30-minute walk at least five days per week

  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate, aerobic exercise

  • 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise

  • Muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week

3. Diet and Nutrition

Food Guide
Food Guide. Image Source

Your diet and nutrition habits are arguably the most important diabetes risk factors. 


Not only does overeating lead to obesity, but everything you eat or drink directly affects your blood glucose levels. 


Following a healthy diet can help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.


A healthy diet doesn't just mean eating healthy foods. It involves eating moderate portions of nutritious and whole foods that don't cause a spike in your blood sugar levels.


If you're diabetic or liable to develop type 2 diabetes, your doctor and health care team will likely create a diabetes meal plan for you. 


The meal plan will combine what you like to eat, what's good for you, and what you should avoid. Here are a few examples of each.


Here is a list of foods you can incorporate into a healthy diet to create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle:


  • Fruits and vegetables: They're rich in vitamins and minerals and have a low glycemic index which helps regulate your blood glucose level

  • Whole grains and legumes: High in fiber and are digested and absorbed slowly, so they don't cause a spike in your blood sugar

  • Skinless poultry and fish: Good sources of lean protein and have low saturated fat. Choose baked, grilled, or broiled options instead of fried

  • Non-tropical vegetable oils: High in healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which help regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels

  • Unsalted nuts and seeds: High in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats but moderation is key because these are calorie-rich foods


Some foods negatively impact your blood sugar levels and are risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. You don't need to cut them out of your diet, but you should limit them as much as possible. 


Here are a few examples:


  • Foods rich in saturated fat and trans fat such as fried foods

  • High-sodium foods

  • Sweets, candy, and baked goods

  • Sugary beverages


Another major diet component to pay attention to is your alcohol intake. Drinking too much alcohol can cause inflammation in your pancreas, limiting its ability to produce insulin. Without enough insulin, your blood sugar can rise to dangerous levels, leading to type 2 diabetes.


Also, alcohol, along with insulin injections or type 2 diabetes medication can lead to very low blood sugar levels, especially if you haven't eaten. 


Alcohol intake is one of the quick-fix diabetes risk factors you can start with immediately.

4. Sleep

Very few people pay attention to sleep when considering risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Sleep is one of the few things that affect your overall health, and a good night's sleep can help you avoid many health problems.


The American Diabetes Association has found that when you don't get enough sleep, your body has difficulty managing diabetes. Studies have shown that poor sleep quality is directly linked to a higher A1c (a blood glucose test that gauges your diabetic control).


Try to aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. It can help regulate blood sugar, improve mood and memory, and prevent heart disease.


If you suffer from insomnia (trouble sleeping) or sleep apnea (difficulty breathing while asleep), talk to your diabetes care team about a solution.

5. Other Health Conditions

Some health conditions can increase your risk of developing diabetes. By paying attention to these health problems and following a proper treatment plan, you can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.


Here are a few conditions that are also diabetes risk factors:

- High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, especially when left untreated. The elevated blood pressure levels can damage and inflame the lining of your blood vessels preventing insulin from doing its job.


In other words, hypertension can lead to insulin resistance, which can develop into diabetes. High blood pressure can also cause a heart attack if left unchecked.


The American Heart Association recommends a target blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg for non-diabetics. However, for people with diabetes, the target blood pressure range is below 130/80 mm Hg.

- High Lipid Profile

Elevated lipid profiles, especially cholesterol, and triglyceride are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They contribute to atherosclerosis and blood vessel disease, which in turn can lead to diabetes.


Staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and weight management are ways to improve your lipid profile and lower your chances of developing diabetes. In some cases, you might need to take cholesterol-lowering medication.


Here's a quick one-pager on managing type 2 diabetes and cholesterol from the American Heart Association.

- Elevated stress Levels

Stress is one of the most overlooked risk factors for type 2 diabetes. It's not only a major contributor to your mental health but your physical health, as well.


Stress causes your body to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase your blood sugar levels. 


The elevated blood sugar eventually causes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.


Chronic stress also causes inflammation, which interferes with glucose metabolism. 


Try walking, meditating, or doing other stress-relieving activities you enjoy. You'll feel better and you'll delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that affects the female reproductive system. It can cause disturbances in your body's cells, leading to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that all females with PCOS do an oral glucose tolerance test to determine the likelihood of developing diabetes.


If you're diagnosed with impaired fasting glucose or glucose tolerance, you should repeat this test once a year to ensure your blood sugar is controlled.

Other Diabetes Risk Factors You Can't Control

Diabetes, medicine, needles for insulin
Diabetes, medicine, needles for insulin . Image Source

So far, the five risk factors we've mentioned have all been modifiable or manageable with lifestyle changes. Some risk factors, however, are non-modifiable.


Here are a few examples.


  • Family history: Having a family history of diabetes significantly increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. If it's a parent, brother, sister, or child, you're two to six times more likely to become diabetic.

  • Age: The older you get, the greater your chance of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. It's more common in adults aged 40 and above.

  • Race or ethnic background: African-Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, South Asians, African Caribbeans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders have a greater risk of developing diabetes.

  • Gestational Diabetes: Mothers who have suffered from diabetes at some point during pregnancy are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes again later on.

Diabetes Risk Factors Vs. Causes: What's the Difference?

Glucose monitor at a table with fruits and vegetables
Glucose monitor at a table with fruits and vegetables. Image Source

There's a big difference between diabetes risk factors and causes. Risk factors are lifestyle habits or conditions that increase your chances of developing diabetes.


Causes are the underlying biological factors that directly lead to the onset of diabetes.


For example, common causes of type 2 diabetes could be that your body produces little to no insulin or has insulin resistance. This leads to chronically high blood sugar, which is diabetes. There's little you can do about it short of taking medication to enhance your insulin.


Most risk factors, on the other hand, can be changed or improved. 


For example, swapping out junk food for a healthy diet can lower your chances of becoming diabetic.

Wrapping Up

Consider the risk factors for type 2 diabetes a warning sign in the middle of the road. They're telling you to slow down and take another path toward a healthier, diabetes-free life.


Now that you know what diabetes risk factors to look for, you can live a sweeter but ironically sugar-free life!

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