What are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?

Risk factors for diabetes may vary based on the type of diabetes that you have.

Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, genetic factors likely play a role. Your risk of developing type 1 diabetes increases if you have a parent or sibling who has type 1 diabetes. Environmental factors, such as exposure to a viral illness, may also play a role in type 1 diabetes.

Other factors that may increase your risk include:

  • The presence of diabetes antibodies (which mistakenly target and damage cells in the body): Sometimes family members of people with type 1 diabetes are tested for the presence of diabetes antibodies. If you have these autoantibodies, there is a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. But, not everyone who has these autoantibodies develops type 1 diabetes.
  • Dietary factors: A number of dietary factors have been linked to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes such as low vitamin D consumption, early exposure to cow’s milk or cow’s milk formula and exposure to cereals before four months of age. However, none of these factors have been shown to cause type 1 diabetes.
  • Race: Type 1 diabetes is more common in Caucasians (whites) than in other races.
  • Geography: Certain countries, such as Finland and Sweden, have higher rates of type 1 diabetes.

Risk Factors for Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

Researchers don’t fully understand why some people develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and others don’t. However, it’s clear that certain factors increase the risk, including:

  • Overweight: The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
  • Inactivity: The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more receptive to insulin. Exercising less than three times a week may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Family history: Your risk increases if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
  • Race: Although it’s unclear why, people of certain races — including blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asians — are at higher risk.
  • Age: Risk increases as you get older; this may be because you tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as you age. But type 2 diabetes is also increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes later increases. If you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, you’re also at risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: For women, having polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition in which women have irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and are overweight, increases the risk of diabetes.
  • High blood pressure: Having blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Cholesterol levels: If you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. Low levels of HDL are defined as below 35 mg/dL.
  • High levels of triglycerides: Triglycerides are a fat that is carried in the blood. If your triglyceride levels are above 250 mg/dL, your risk of diabetes increases.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

Any pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some women are at greater risk than others. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

  • Age: Women older than age 25 are at greater risk.
  • Family or personal history: Your risk increases if you have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition that may lead to type 2 diabetes. If a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes, your risk is higher. You’re also at greater risk if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a very large baby or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.
  • Overweight: Being overweight before pregnancy increases your risk.
  • Race: For reasons that aren’t clear, women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.