Diabetes Risk Factors

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In the U.S., about 97.6 million adults age 18-64 and 27.2 million adults age 65 or older have prediabetes, and many people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are unaware of their condition.

Some diabetes risk factors can be controlled by lifestyle choices. These are called modifiable risk factors. Those that you can’t change are non-modifiable risk factors.

Non-modifiable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

Risk factors that increase your risk for developing prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes that can’t be changed are:

  • Family history: The risk of diabetes is increased if your parents or siblings have the disease. Share your family health history with your health care professional to find out what it may mean for you.

  • Race or ethnic background: If you are a Black American, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic American, Native American or of Pacific-Islander, you have a greater chance of developing diabetes.

  • Age: The older you are, the higher your risk for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes generally occurs in middle-aged adults, most frequently after age 45. But health care professionals are diagnosing more and more children and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes.

  • Gestational diabetes: If you developed diabetes during pregnancy, you are at increased risk of developing diabetes again later in life.

Modifiable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

You can — and should — do something about your modifiable risk factors. You can reduce your risk for diabetes or delay its development by making healthy changes: 

  • Weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes. Losing 5% to 10% of your body weight—in addition to getting regular physical activity—can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Your risk decreases even more as you lose more weight. For most people, a body mass index calculator will provide a good target weight for your height. Learn how to manage your weight.

  • Physical activity: Physical inactivity is a key modifiable risk factor for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity helps lower insulin resistance. This means your body can use its own insulin more effectively. Even a brisk 30-minute walk at least five days a week can help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. For your overall cardiovascular health, aim for:
    • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity;
    • Or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or a combination of the two); And muscle-strengthening at least two days per week

  • Blood pressure: In addition to causing damage to the cardiovascular system, untreated high blood pressure has been linked to complications from diabetes. People with diabetes and HBP should maintain a blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. Learn more about high blood pressure and how to control it.

  • Smoking: If you smoke, there are a number of tools, medications and online resources that you can use to help you quit. Talk to your health care team about the best options for you. 

By following our healthy living tips, you can take control of your modifiable risk factors. Taking proactive steps now can prevent or delay the development of diabetes and improve your quality of life.

Find more tools and resources for managing diabetes and reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease at KnowDiabetesbyHeart.org.

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