Are You at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes? Learn Common—and Not So Common—Risk Factors

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
November 8, 2017
Risk Factors for Diabetes

Diabetes is not a rare condition – in fact, it’s an epidemic in the U.S. More than 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and another 84 million have prediabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar levels that often leads to type 2.

Why do so many Americans have type 2 diabetes? Experts say this major public health problem is due to an aging population, increasing obesity rates and rising sedentary lifestyles.

But it’s largely a preventable epidemic and you can offset your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by understanding common—and some not-so-common —type 2 diabetes risk factors, such as:

Body Composition
You’ve probably heard that being overweight raises your risk. But it’s not really about the number on the scale, it’s about your body composition. If you have higher body fat percentage, your cells may be less sensitive to insulin. Being overweight and/or living a sedentary lifestyle tend to raise your body fat percentage.

However, even if you’re at a healthy weight, you’re not necessarily off the hook. You can still be at risk if you’re metabolically obese at normal weight—more commonly known as “skinny fat.” When you’re metabolically obese, you have a normal weight but are out of shape and have low muscle mass.

Aging is also tied to this risk factor. As you age, your metabolism and physical activity levels typically slow, causing you to gain fat mass. This is why the risk for type 2 diabetes begins rising after age 45.

Eating healthy and strength training can help maintain a healthy body composition. Talk to your doctor before beginning a weight training program.

Once you get clearance, you can check out MDVIP’s strength training program, available on Perfect Fit via MDVIP Connect*. Here’s more information on resistance training programs >>

Gynecological/Obstetrical History
Several gynecological or obstetrical issues can also raise your risk for type 2 diabetes. Be sure to discuss type 2 diabetes with your doctor if you have a history of:

Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a condition characterized by enlarged, cyst-prone ovaries that cause hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Over time, blood sugar levels can elevate, increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes.     

Gestational diabetes is a condition marked by elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can be controlled through weight management, healthy diet, regular exercise and medication. Although blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivery, gestational diabetes still raises your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

Giving birth to a large baby weighing nine pounds or more can also increase your type 2 diabetes risk. And like gestational diabetes, the causes are not fully understood, and it raises your risk for type 2 diabetes.   
Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disease and diabetes have many of the same risk factors—which means if have one, you’re at greater risk for developing the other. But you can work with your doctor to control these risk factors.  

High blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes as it shares many of the same disease pathways, including an overly activated sympathetic nervous system, increased insulin resistance, oxidative stress and higher percentage of body fat.      

High triglyceride levels don’t cause diabetes but they do mean you have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Triglycerides are fat in the blood. After your body digests dietary fat, it’s metabolized into triglycerides and used for energy. However, high triglycerides levels, also a risk for heart disease, are often caused by a high-carbohydrate diet in conjunction with insulin resistance—a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Smoking is another major risk factor for type 2 diabetes as nicotine interferes with how cells use blood sugar. Smoking can cause to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Here are some tips to help you quit smoking.

Finally, excessive alcohol consumption inflames the pancreas, impairing its ability to produce insulin.

Family History
Your family’s ethnic background and genes play a major role in your risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies suggest an African-American, Latino/Hispanic or Native American background raises your risk.

And if your parents have the disease, you have a higher risk. Here’s Healthline’s breakdown of your genetic risk developing type 2 diabetes.

  • 1 in 17 if one of your parents was diagnosed with it before age 50.
  • 1 in 13 if one of your parents was diagnosed with it after age 50.
  • 1 in 2 if both or your parents have type 2 diabetes.

Your family’s medical history also influences your risk. For example, if your mother had gestational diabetes while pregnant with you, you’ll have a higher risk of developing the disease.

As part of the MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor will also look at your risk for type 2 diabetes – but you should always be proactive. If you have one of these risk factors, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated physician about steps you can take to keep from developing type 2 diabetes.

Don’t have a primary care physician? Physicians in MDVIP-affiliated practices can customize a wellness plan for you that includes helping to prevent and manage prediabetes and diabetes. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »


*Log onto MDVIP Connect, click on Perfect Fit, click MDVIP Workouts, select MDVIP Favorites and scroll to MDVIP’s Weight Program.  



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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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