Are You at Risk for Diabetes?


Diabetes is an “epidemic” in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s more, of the 84 million adults who have prediabetes (elevated blood sugar but below the cutoff for diabetes), only about one in ten know it. Here’s what you should know about risk factors that can increase your odds of developing the condition.

It is important to note that some risk factors for type 2 diabetes are beyond your control. You are more likely to develop the disease if you have a family history of diabetes in a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling. Race and ethnicityare also factors: African Americans, Hispanics, native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and some Asians are at elevated risk.Getting older is another diabetes risk factor, but age alone is not the only problem. It is also what you’re doing and eating, particularly after age 45, that makes the difference. Other risk factors include:

Overweight and obesity. Excessive body weight is the major contributing factor for type 2 diabetes. Approximately 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, and the risk rises as a person’s body mass index (BMI) increases. (BMI is a measurement of weight in relation to height.) Research suggests that, in certain individuals, carrying more body fat somehow makes cells throughout the body more resistant to insulin. Where the fat is located within the body also makes a difference: People with abdominal obesity (apple-shaped body) are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than are those with extra weight in the hips and thighs (pear-shaped body). In fact, some studies suggest that a large waistline measurement is a better predictor of diabetes risk than a high BMI.

Sedentary lifestyle.The body burns glucose for energy, and the more physically active you are, the more glucose you use and the less glucose accumulates in your bloodstream. Exercise also builds muscles, and muscle cells take up and use large amounts of glucose. If you get little exercise, however, you will have less muscle tissue, you will use less glucose, and blood levels of glucose will increase.

Gestational diabetes. A New Zealand study published this year in PLOS Medicinereported that women who had developed this temporary form of diabetes while pregnant were nearly 22 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the next 25 years. Up to 15 percent of pregnant women develop diabetes during pregnancy; being overweight or obese increases the risk.

Medications.Certain medications increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in people who are predisposed to the disease.Several studies have found a link between using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, the added risk appears to be small, and some research suggests it occurs mostly in people who are already at substantial risk for developing diabetes. These findings should not prevent the use of statins, since the benefits outweigh any such risks.