In the past, type 2 diabetes was most often seen in older adults. Now, it’s becoming increasingly common in teens and children due to dietary factors, rates of obesity, and low levels of physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 34 million U.S. people are living with diabetes. Up to 95% of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes.

It is possible to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes — read on to learn what you can do to prevent or delay its onset, no matter your age.

According to the CDC’s National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020, there were around 1.5 million new total diabetes cases in U.S. adults in 2018.

In 2018, adults ages 45 to 64 were most likely to receive a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

New cases of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in people ages 18 and older were as follows:

Age groupNumber of new cases in 2018
18–44 years452,000
45–64 years706,000
65 years and over326,000

In 2018, the CDC report notes that 210,000 people under age 20 received a diabetes diagnosis. Of these, 187,000 had type 1 diabetes.

From 2011 to 2015, diagnoses of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes rose significantly in people ages 10 to 19.

In the past, type 2 diabetes was mainly seen to affect adults, while type 1 diabetes was more common in children and young adults. Now, more children are receiving type 2 diabetes diagnoses.

Experts believe type 1 diabetes occurs due to an autoimmune reaction. Type 2 diabetes is more likely a result of lifestyle factors.

In 2012, researchers looked at how cases of diabetes could rise in people under age 20. The researchers predicted that the number could increase by up to 49% by 2050. If the rates of incidence increase, the number of type 2 diabetes cases in youth could quadruple.

How does type 2 diabetes affect children?

Some racial groups have a higher risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to statistics from the CDC. The reasons for this remain unclear, but social and economic disparities likely play a role.

In 2017–2018, the likelihood of having a diagnosis of diabetes after the age of 18 was:

  • 14.7% for American and Alaskan Natives
  • 12.5% for those of Hispanic origin
  • 11.7% for Black Americans
  • 9.2% for non-Hispanic Asians
  • 7.5% for non-Hispanic whites

From 2002 to 2010, the largest increases in type 1 diagnoses were among Hispanic children and youth. From 2011 to 2015, however, the highest increases in type 1 rates were among Pacific Islander and Asian children and youth.

From 2002 to 2010, there were similar rises in type 2 diagnoses among children and youths across all groups. From 2011 to 2015, however, only the rates for non-Hispanic whites remained stable.

Those of all other groups, and especially Black Americans, rose significantly.

There is an urgent need to address racial disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases, including diabetes.

Learn more about racial disparities in diabetes treatment and how some researchers are addressing this.

Type 2 diabetes may result from a combination of health issues and lifestyle factors.

Some unavoidable factors can increase risk, but lifestyle factors often make it more likely to occur.

Fixed risk factors

Some factors you can’t change.

One is your age, as you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after age 45.

Genetics may also contribute to developing diabetes since having a close family member with the condition appears to increase a person’s risk.

Related health conditions

Diabetes often occurs with other health conditions. If you already have one of these conditions, you may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Related health conditions include:


A person with prediabetes — also called borderline diabetes — has a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

If you have borderline diabetes, you have high glucose levels, but they’re not currently high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Still, not everyone with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes. Taking action to lower glucose levels at this stage can slow or reverse the progress of the disease.

If you or someone you know receives a diagnosis of borderline diabetes, there are many preventive measures to take, like adjusting your diet.

Factors related to lifestyle

A sedentary (or inactive) lifestyle with limited physical exercise is one factor that can increase someone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A diet high in processed foods and added sugars, which provides more calories than the body needs, may also increase your chances.

Together, these lifestyle factors can lead to obesity and related health conditions. This, in turn, can increase your chances of developing diabetes.

The CDC estimates that 89% of U.S. adults with diabetes have overweight or obesity. For some people, losing weight may delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

Someone under age 18 may benefit from screening for diabetes if they:

  • have a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile (in other words, in the top 15% of the general population)
  • have other possible symptoms of type 2 diabetes, such as acanthosis nigricans
  • have other related health conditions like high blood pressure
  • have a close family member with type 2 diabetes
  • have a birth parent who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • are from a high risk group, such as being a Black American or Pacific Islander

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Black Americans are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as whites. The NIH adds that the disparities have been growing over the last 30 years.

Biological factors appear to play a key role, including obesity.

Many other factors contribute to disparities in the onset, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for Black Americans with diabetes, including:

  • a lack of access to safe spaces for exercise
  • inability to afford or access fresh foods
  • depression, which can affect how a person manages diabetes
  • a lack of research involving Black Americans with diabetes that could lead to more effective medical decisions
  • difficulty accessing treatment or following treatment plans (for example due to high costs)
  • an incorrect diagnosis when doctors lack familiarity with subtypes of diabetes that are more common among Black Americans and especially children

How does diabetes affect Black Americans?

It is possible to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes, even after a diagnosis of prediabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, regularly exercising and losing about 7% of your body weight (if you weigh 200 pounds) can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 58%.

Some people may also delay diabetes onset by taking diabetes medication.

You can discuss your options and how to accomplish your goals with a doctor.

Not everyone can prevent diabetes entirely. Still, taking early steps can still help prevent complications from diabetes and improve your overall quality of life.

How can you prevent diabetes?

Here are some questions people often ask about the risk of having type 2 diabetes.

What are some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?

Genetic and environmental factors can both play a role. The most common risk factor is being overweight or having obesity.

People with a history of gestational diabetes or aspects of metabolic syndrome — such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease — also have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

What is the main risk factor?

Statistics indicate that 89% of people with type 2 diabetes have obesity. This suggests it is the most common risk factor.

How can you prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes?

Someone with prediabetes has blood sugar levels higher than the recommended levels. This puts them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

But you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by exercising regularly, losing 5–7% of your body weight (though this may vary based on your body), and making dietary changes.

In the past, type 1 diabetes was more likely to affect children and teens, while type 2 diabetes was more common among older adults.

Cases of type 1 diabetes are still highest for people under age 20, but the rates of type 2 diabetes in youth are rising. Experts believe that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise play a role.

People over age 45 still have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than younger people, but it’s becoming more common to receive a diagnosis at a younger age.

Some people have a relatively high risk of developing type 2 diabetes at any age. This includes people with obesity, high cholesterol levels, and other aspects of metabolic syndrome. Socioeconomic factors can also contribute to developing diabetes if they affect a person’s access to healthcare, safe exercise spaces, and a fresh and varied diet.