Age of Onset for Type 2 Diabetes: Know Your Risk

Written by Kristeen Cherney | Published on August 13, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 13, 2014

Diagnosing Diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 21 million people were diagnosed with diabetes in 2012. The CDC also notes that 90-95 percent of cases in adults involve type 2 diabetes. In the past, type 2 diabetes was most prevalent in older adults. But due to widespread poor lifestyle habits, it’s more common in younger people than ever before.

Type 2 diabetes is often preventable. Learn what you can do to prevent or delay its onset, no matter your age.

Average Age of Diagnosis

Middle-aged and older adults are still at the highest risk for developing type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, there were a total of 1.7 million new total diabetes cases in 2012.

In 2012, adults aged 45 to 64 were the most diagnosed age group for diabetes. New cases of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in people 20 years and older were distributed like this:

  • ages 20-44: 371,000 new cases
  • ages 45-64: 892,000 new cases
  • ages 65 and older: 400,000 new cases

People aged 45 to 64 were also developing diabetes at a faster rate, edging out adults 65 and older.

Influx in Pediatric Patients

Type 2 diabetes used to be most prevalent in adults. It was once called “adult-onset” diabetes. Now more common in children, it’s simply called “type 2.” While a few kids are born with or acquire type 1, type 2 diabetes is attributed to poor lifestyle habits.

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 3,600 people under the age of 20 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every year.

A 2012 study published in Diabetes Care considered the potential future number of diabetes cases in people under the age of 20. The study found that, at current rates, the amount of people under the age of 20 with type 2 diabetes could increase by up to 49 percent by 2050. If the rates of incidence increase, the number of type 2 cases in youth could quadruple.

Risk Factors Affecting Adults

Type 2 diabetes may result from a culmination of a lifestyle and health issues. Specific factors can increase your personal risk, but an unhealthy lifestyle is the broader issue for many cases.

Factors that increase your risk for type 2 diabetes include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • leading a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
  • vascular disease
  • having a family member with diabetes
  • history of gestational diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 85.2 percent of diabetes patients are either overweight or obese. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, losing weight may delay or prevent the disease.

Being diagnosed with prediabetes is another significant risk factor. Prediabetes occurs when you have high blood sugar. However, in this type, blood sugar levels aren’t high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes doesn’t mean you will necessarily develop type 2 diabetes. But if you have high blood sugar, type 2 diabetes is possible. That’s why it’s important to take preventive measures.

Ethnicity may also be a risk factor. You may be at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes if you are:

  • Latino
  • African-American
  • Asian American
  • American Indian
  • Pacific Islander

Onset May be Delayed

Despite the high rates of diagnosis, there are ways the disease may be delayed, and even prevented. Your best options include:

  • regular exercise
  • following a low-calorie, low-fat diet
  • reducing intake of processed foods and empty carbs

The Diabetes Prevention Program studied the effects of losing weight on developing type 2 diabetes in a New England Journal of Medicine study. They found that losing 5-7 percent of your body weight can slow the development of type 2 diabetes.

Some at-risk people may also delay the onset by taking diabetes medications. It’s important to discuss all of your options with a doctor for the best results. You may not be able to prevent diabetes entirely. But taking steps now may prevent related complications and improve your quality of life. 

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