Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

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. However, 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 healthcare provider 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—one out of nine Americans will develop this disease. A major risk factor for type 2 diabetes is the "typical American" or "Westernized" lifestyle, which is characterized by:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • High-calorie, high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet

Being Overweight or Obese

Carrying excess weight, especially in the upper body and abdomen, increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. The risk is greatest in overweight young adults and people who have been overweight for a long time.

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.

The tissues of overweight or obese people can become less sensitive to insulin. This makes it difficult for the body's cells to use the insulin that the pancreas produces; 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:


If you are 40 or older and overweight, you are at higher risk of diabetes, and you should talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes. If you are over 45 and your weight is normal, ask your doctor if screening for diabetes is right for you.


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.

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.


American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org . Accessed February 8, 2006.

Joslin Diabetes Center website. Available at: http://www.joslin.org/ . Accessed February 8, 2006.

Last reviewed April 2007 by David Juan, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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