In type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells don’t respond to insulin the way they once did, resulting in glucose, or sugar, building up in your blood.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes, and about 1.5 million new diagnoses are made each year. Of new diagnoses, 90 to 95 percent of them are type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Knowing the risk factors for type 2 diabetes can help you in making changes that promote positive effects on your overall health and wellness that can help reduce your risk for the disease.

If you do develop type 2 diabetes, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. There are various factors at play. Type 2 diabetes can be managed by working with healthcare professionals who can teach you how to monitor and manage your care to maintain your overall health.

Risk factors are things that can increase your risk for developing a certain disease or condition. Having risk factors does not definitively mean you will develop a condition; it merely means your chances might be increased.

Some risk factors, like age, genetics, or ethnicity, cannot be changed, while others, like weight or lifestyle factors, can be changed. Being aware of these risk factors can help you make changes to minimize things that you have control over.

Genetics

Genetics play a role in risk factors for type 2 diabetes. You are more at risk for the disease if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, especially a parent or sibling with the disease. Gene mutations have also been linked with type 2 diabetes; however, mutations only account for a small portion of those who are diagnosed with the condition.

The genetic component is thought to strongly interact with environmental risk factors as well. The good news is that when parents establish the habits of eating a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet and staying active, they can then pass on these routines to their children, which can help reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Race/Ethnicity

According to the CDC, diabetes has a higher prevalence in African American, Hispanic/Latinx American, American Indian, and Alaska Native communities, as well as some Pacific Islander and Asian American communities.

Many different factors contribute to this, including biological and clinical factors, as well as social factors and systemic healthcare inequity.

Lifestyle habits

Lifestyle habits and conditions can also contribute to your type 2 diabetes risk, but they are modifiable. By addressing and changing these situations, you can decrease your risk. Lifestyle risk factors can include:

  • having overweight or obesity
  • not being physically active
  • smoking and alcohol use

Environmental

As mentioned above, home environmental factors can contribute to behaviors that can increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

A 2018 review of studies looked at 60 studies highlighting 200 instances of relationships between environmental factors and health outcomes.

Results showed that living in an area with more walkability and green space has been found to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas increased levels of noise and more air pollution were associated with a higher risk.

More research needs to be done to find out more about the relationships between these environmental risk factors and diabetes.

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These medical conditions can include:

Many of these conditions can contribute to insulin resistance. When it’s unclear what the direct link is, it’s often associated with having overweight or obesity, which is another risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Acanthosis nigricans (a skin condition with dark, thick patches on the neck or armpits), high triglycerides, or low HDL (the “good” cholesterol) can be signs of insulin resistance and risk for diabetes.

Age

People age 45 years or older are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This is because as you get older, insulin secretion decreases, and changes in your body composition makes it more insulin resistant. Both of these can lead to high blood sugar levels.

Diabetes affects all races and ethnicities. However, diabetes disproportionately affects marginalized populations.

They experience higher prevalence rates, more challenges to managing blood sugar levels, and higher rates of complications, which are all likely due to disparities in both healthcare and health outcomes.

Access to care, testing, and intervention all play a role as well, which are key obstacles people face because of healthcare inequities.

Without access to general healthcare, people cannot get the preventive care and health education that’s vital to helping them reduce their risks for type 2 diabetes. Without testing specifically, people do not know they have type 2 diabetes, which can likely result in the disease worsening as it progresses, leading to subsequent complications.

As with any condition, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about type 2 diabetes and various risk factors. Knowing which ones are not true can help you learn more about the condition.

Myths and misconceptions about type 2 diabetes can include:

  • Eating too much sugar causes diabetes. Eating sugar is not the cause of diabetes. There is a complex array of genetic and environmental factors that increase a person’s risk for diabetes.
  • You need to eat special food if you have diabetes. Nope, not true! A nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet, which includes occasional treats, is just fine.
  • You can’t have starchy foods if you have diabetes. While it is best for people with diabetes (and those without diabetes) to limit processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories, an occasional treat is OK. Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates are part of a nutrient-rich, balanced diet for both people with and without diabetes.
  • Diabetes is not that serious. It is important to take diabetes seriously, because it can lead to serious complications if not managed well. However, much of diabetes management is in your control. You can take steps to help keep your blood glucose in a target range.

If you hear anything about type 2 diabetes that you are not sure of, or that you have questions about, don’t hesitate to ask a medical professional. They can provide you with factual information and clear up any myths or confusion about what you’ve heard.

Even if you have risk factors, there are things you can do to help reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes or delay its onset.

You cannot always prevent type 2 diabetes, especially if there are genetic risk factors — but there are things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce your risk.

If you are carrying extra weight, there are steps you can take to make healthier food choices, such as limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates, cutting calories, and adding low fat proteins and dairy to your eating plan.

Exercising as often as possible can also make a positive difference in your health.

Making these changes can be challenging — and may even seem overwhelming at first — but support is available.

Talk with a healthcare professional about the changes you would like to make. They may be able to help with meal planning or refer you to a nutritionist or certified diabetes care and education specialist. They can also help you create an exercise plan that meets your needs.

Certain medical conditions or medications can also increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Talk with a medical professional about your medical history and any medications you take to find out if you’re at an increased risk.

If you have any of the risk factors previously discussed, talk with a medical professional about your personal risk for type 2 diabetes.

They can do a physical examination, request your personal and family health history, and order any necessary bloodwork to determine if you have the condition. They can let you know signs and symptoms to look for, as well as things you can do to reduce your risk.

Seeing a doctor for regular checkups is an important part of your preventive care. It can help your doctor identify any symptoms of prediabetes so they can be treated. Early diagnosis of prediabetes can help lower the risk of your condition progressing to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is very different from type 1. While it may not always be preventable, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk — and even delay a diagnosis.

If you’re unsure about how to make the necessary lifestyle changes, talk with a healthcare professional. They can help provide information, support, and referrals to other trained professionals who can provide additional help.