A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop type 2 diabetes with or without the risk factors listed below. But, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

Sedentary Lifestyle and Poor Dietary Patterns

Type 2 diabetes is very common in the US. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 23.6 million Americans have diabetes. A major risk factor is the typical American or Westernized lifestyle, which is characterized by:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • High-calorie, high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet
  • Diet that includes a lot of meat, especially processed meat (eg, processed luncheon meat, hot dogs, sausages)

Talk to your doctor about healthy food choices for you.

Sleep Problems

Having sleep problems may put you at an increased risk for diabetes. Sleep problems include having difficulty falling asleep, having difficulty staying asleep, sleeping too long (eg, over nine hours), or not sleeping enough (eg, less than five hours).

Excess Weight and Obesity

Carrying excess weight, especially in the upper body and abdomen, increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. This is especially true for overweight young adults, people who have been overweight for a long time. But is it also true for middle-aged adults who gain weight.

The latest research has shown marked increases in type 2 diabetes among overweight children. Until recently, this disease was rarely found in people under the age of 40.

Insulin is a hormone made in the body. It is needed to move glucose from the blood to body tissue. The tissues of overweight or obese people can become less sensitive to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and contribute significantly to many of its complications.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, some of which are related to being overweight and/or having a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include:

Age

If you are aged 45 or older, the ADA recommends screening. Regardless of age, though, if you are overweight and have other risk factors (eg, family history of diabetes, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure), then you should be screened for diabetes. Overweight children who are aged 10 or older should be screened, as well.

Ethnic Background

In the US, people of the following ethnic groups are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • African American
  • Hispanic American
  • Pima Indian
  • Native American
  • Asian American
  • Pacific Islander

Many people in these groups have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes when they do not live in a Westernized culture.

Genetics

Having family members with type 2 diabetes increases your risk of the disease. The general American population has a 1 in 9 lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If your brother, sister, mother, or father develops type 2, your risk is doubled—to a 1 in 4 chance of developing the condition.