More than 30 million Americans are living with Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anyone can develop this disease, though some are at a higher risk than others. We’ll dive into the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes below.
According to CDC data, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes rose for decades, finally plateauing and even dropping since 2009. But recently, there’s been a significant uptick in the numbers of young people, even children, developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s essential to understand if you and your family are at high risk for Type 2 diabetes — and how to prevent it.
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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the systems that control sugar levels in your blood malfunction. Type 2 diabetes can develop when your body stops making as much insulin as it needs or becomes resistant to it. This malfunction leads to high blood sugar, affecting almost every aspect of your health.
Insulin is a hormone that plays an important role in how our body uses energy. When you eat food, your digestive system converts it into glucose, a type of simple sugar that your body uses as fuel. Eating signals the pancreas to release insulin, which helps your cells absorb that glucose from the blood.
When you have Type 2 diabetes, however, insulin can’t do this essential job. Your cells don’t get the necessary glucose — too much sugar stays in the blood. High blood sugar can lead to cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, vision issues, and other problems.
Who Is at risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
Unfortunately, just about everyone is at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It is a widespread disease that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. But scientists have noted some genetic and environmental factors that put certain people at a greater risk.
Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:
- Your age. Most Type 2 diabetes diagnoses happen after age 35. But it is possible to develop insulin resistance at much younger ages. More recently, doctors have been diagnosing increasing numbers of children and teens with Type 2 diabetes.
- Your weight. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition, which means your weight plays a role in it. If you are overweight or obese, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Your family history. There isn’t a diabetes gene, but it’s well-established that a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes can run in families. If your parents or grandparents had diabetes, your risk also increases.
- Your physical activity level. Couch potatoes, take note: Research has linked a lack of regular exercise to a heightened risk for Type 2 diabetes.
- Your racial background. Researchers are not entirely certain why, but Type 2 diabetes is more common in people of certain ethnicities. These include people of African American, Alaskan Native, American Indian, Asian America, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander descent.
- Your blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure and high cholesterol don’t only increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. Research has also linked these conditions to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.
- Your medical history. Certain conditions appear to go hand in hand with a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. These include depression, heart attack, stroke, polycystic ovary syndrome, and gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
Even with one or more risk factors, preventing or at least delaying the development of Type 2 diabetes is possible. All it takes is some making targeted lifestyle changes now. You can lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes by doing the following:
- Get active. Becoming more physically active can help on several fronts. It can help you lose weight, which reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes. It also helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol, and strengthens your cardiovascular system. Experts recommend 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
- Eat right. Eating a balanced diet is another way to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes. By eating smaller portions and avoiding sugary, fat-laden foods, you can lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health. Many doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet as a great way to stay heart-healthy and maintain a healthy metabolism.
- Manage existing health conditions. Managing pre-existing medical conditions linked to Type 2 diabetes can help reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor about how to best manage conditions, including heart disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.
Connect with UPMC
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.