An estimated 18.2 million people in the United States have diabetes. More than half (9.3 million) are women (1). Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and if left untreated can lead to a myriad of complications. Knowing your risk factors is one tool to preventing diabetes and/or diabetes complications
Risk Factors for Diabetes
1. History of diabetes in a parent or sibling
A recent report based on information from adults previously diagnosed with diabetes who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that individuals with a first degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister) had an increased risk of getting diabetes. Individuals who had a first degree relative with diabetes had a 14.3% chance of developing diabetes. This study also showed individuals risk for diabetes increased with the number of family members diagnosed with diabetes (2).
2. Obesity & physical inactivity
Obesity is defined as being 20% over desired body weight or having a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or greater. Obesity can keep your body from making enough insulin or using insulin properly.
Physical inactivity can also increase your risk for diabetes. Regular exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels and is important for weight control.
3. History or gestational diabetes, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), or having a baby greater than 9 lbs.
Women with a history of gestational diabetes have a 40% greater chance of having diabetes later in their life (3).
Certain races/ethnic groups are at greater risk for getting diabetes.
Ethinic groups at risk include:
- African American
- Hispanic American/Latino
- American Indian
- Native Alaskan
- Asian American
- Pacific Islander
You are at greater risk for diabetes if you are older than 45 years of age. Your risk for diabetes continues to increase with age.
6. High blood pressure and high cholesterol
If you have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, this also increases your risk for diabetes.
Is there anything I can do to decrease my risk of diabetes?
Yes! Recent studies have shown promising results at reducing the risk of diabetes. Age, race, and family history you have no control over, but with diet and lifestyle modifications you can significantly reduce your risk for diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a recent federally funded study, has shown that modifications in diet and exercise decrease the risk of getting diabetes significantly. Persons in this study exercised for 30 minutes 5 times per week, followed a low-fat and low-calorie diet, and lost 5%-7% of thier body weight. These individuals reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58% (3).
What if I have risk factors for diabetes?
If you are above 45 years of age, you may want to be tested for diabetes. You may also want to be tested if you are under 45 and have one or more risk factors.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes fact sheet:, http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/estimates.htm
2. Annis AM, Caulder MS, Cook ML, Duquette D. Family history, diabetes, and other demographic and risk factors among participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2002. Prev Chronic Dis, 2005 Apr. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2005/apr/04_0131.htm.