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 make changes that promote positive effects on your overall health and wellness that can help reduce your risk.

If you 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 condition. Having risk factors does not definitively mean you’ll develop a condition — it merely means your chances might be increased.

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


Genetics plays a role in risk factors for type 2 diabetes. You’re more at risk for it if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, especially if a parent or sibling has it. Gene mutations have also been linked with type 2 diabetes, but mutations only account for a small portion of those diagnosed with the condition.

The genetic component is thought to interact strongly with environmental risk factors, as well. But when parents establish nutrient-dense, balanced diets and encourage staying active, they can then pass on these routines to their children, which can help reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Race and ethnicity

According to the CDC, diabetes has a higher prevalence in Black, 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. They can be biological, clinical factors, as well as social factors and systemic healthcare inequity.

Lifestyle habits

Lifestyle habits 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:

  • living with extra weight or obesity
  • low physical activity levels
  • smoking and alcohol use

While having a higher body mass index (BMI) doesn’t always mean you’ll develop type 2 diabetes, many health professionals still use a BMI index chart to see if your height and weight may put you at risk. A sample of the chart from the National Institute of Health is below.

Once you find your height and weight below, if your weight matches or is higher than the weight listed, you may be at a greater risk for diabetes.

Height (non-Asian American)Weight (non-Asian American)Height (Asian American)Weight (Asian American)
5’1″132 lbs5’1″122 lbs
5’2″136 lbs5’2″126 lbs
5’3″141 lbs5’3″130 lbs
5’4″145 lbs5’4″134 lbs
5’5″150 lbs5’5″138 lbs
5’6″155 lbs5’6″142 lbs
5’7″159 lbs5’7″146 lbs
5’8″164 lbs5’8″151 lbs
5’9″169 lbs5’9″158 lbs
5’10”174 lbs5’10”160 lbs

It’s important to remember that BMI is not the whole story when it comes to overall health — or even a healthy weight. While this chart may be a good starting point, talking with your doctor about your personal health history is best to truly assess your diabetes risk.


As mentioned above, home environmental factors can contribute to behaviors that increase your risk of 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. On the other hand, increased noise levels and more air pollution were associated with a higher risk.

More research is needed to learn 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 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.


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 make it more insulin resistant. Both of these can lead to high blood sugar levels.

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.

While you can’t always prevent type 2 diabetes, especially if there are genetic risk factors — there are things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce your risk:

  • Be conscious of your eating habits. Limiting refined sugars and refined carbohydrates (like cakes, cookies, and sugary sodas), increasing your lean protein intake (i.e chicken and fish), staying hydrated, and eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a great way to set yourself up for health success.
  • Increase physical activity. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, which means about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Even if you don’t have access to a gym, you can do things like power walk around your neighborhood or try an online fitness class at home.
  • Lose weight (if your doctor has recommended it). Losing weight isn’t easy, but if your doctor has recommended it, it’s an important step in avoiding or managing type 2 diabetes. Embracing nourishing foods and physical activity as a lifestyle, instead of just a temporary fix, can also help you keep the weight off once you’ve lost it.
  • Stay up to date with your yearly physicals. Yearly physical exams usually involve blood tests to check up on your overall health. Connecting doctor and keeping your appointments can help you both stay one step ahead of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

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

Talk with a healthcare professional about the changes you’d 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.

Diabetes affects all races and ethnicities. But 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 worsen 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’s 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, balanced diet — which includes occasional treats — is just fine.
  • You can’t have starchy foods if you have diabetes. While it’s 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’s important to take diabetes seriously, because it can lead to serious complications if not managed well. But 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.

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.