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10 Surprising Things That Put You at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Feb 12, 2021
By Malcolm Thaler

Updated February 12, 2021.

Diabetes comes in two forms. In type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, a hormone needed to convert food into energy. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces plenty of insulin, but the body develops resistance to its own insulin. Type 2 diabetes is most common in adults, but it is now being diagnosed in many children as well.

These two types of diabetes both involve blood sugar, but they are actually different diseases with different causes and treatments. Here’s a look at some of the lesser-known factors that can increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

1. Genes

The development of diabetes involves a complex mix of lifestyle factors, environmental factors, and genetics. The risk of developing diabetes is higher if you are closely related to someone who has the disease. If anyone in your immediate family has diabetes, your risk is increased two to three times, and even higher if you have more than one affected first-degree relative.

2. Race/Ethnicity

While race/ethnicity does not necessarily directly increase your risk of diabetes, there is a health disparity between rates of type two diabetes among different racial and ethnic groups in the US. Native Americans have some of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes, followed by Hispanic/Latin X, African, and Asian Americans. The factors that lead to this disparity are complex, but discrimination, access to care and the built environment (eg food deserts or a lack of green space) all play a role in why we see these differences.

3. Obesity

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the dramatic rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes is due in large part to the dramatic increase in obesity in our population. The connection between obesity and diabetes is even greater in children and adolescents than in adults, and because many of the most important repercussions of diabetes — heart disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage — develop only after years of having the illness, the epidemic in children is of special concern. The good news: Lose the weight, and in most cases, diabetes will go away as well.

4. Fat Distribution

If you are overweight, your risk of developing diabetes is in part determined by where you put those extra pounds. There is a greater risk associated with central or abdominal fat than with fat in the buttocks and thighs—the latter is more common in women than men.

5. Dietary Habits

Consuming a lot of red (especially processed) meat and sugar-sweetened drinks is a major risk factor. On the other hand, eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil lowers your risk. Dairy products also appear to lower the risk of diabetes, but it's unclear if the beneficial effects are from something in dairy products or using dairy as a substitute for unhealthy food options.

6. Coffee Consumption

Good news for you coffee drinkers — there’s evidence of a decreased risk of diabetes associated with drinking coffee. Green tea appears to have a similar protective effect. However, increasing your coffee intake is not a replacement for a good diet and active lifestyle.

7. Sedentary Lifestyle

No surprise here — leading a sedentary lifestyle increases your diabetes risk. If you want to lower your chance of developing diabetes, you have to get moving. Excessive screen time has been associated with a higher risk of diabetes since it keeps us from being active. So before you click on the next episode for your netflix binge, take a break and move around.

8. Smoking

The risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease get most of the attention when it comes to the ill effects of smoking, but several studies have also confirmed a link between cigarette smoking and diabetes.

9. Sleep Habits

There appears to be a connection between diabetes and sleeping too little—only five to six hours per night—and sleeping too much—more than eight to nine hours. Studies have also confirmed a link between obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes.

10. Gestational Diabetes

Some women develop impaired sugar metabolism during pregnancy that goes away after delivery. But down the road, these women are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Evidence also suggests that the children of mothers with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing diabetes later as well.

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Malcolm Thaler

Malcolm enjoys being on the front lines of patient care, managing diagnostic and therapeutic challenges with a compassionate, integrative approach that stresses close doctor-patient collaboration. He is the author and chief editor of several best-selling medical textbooks and online resources, and has extensive expertise in managing a wide range of issues including the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sports injuries. Malcolm graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, received his MD from Duke University, and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Harvard's New England Deaconess Hospital and Temple University Hospital. He joined One Medical from his national award-winning Internal Medicine practice in Pennsylvania and was an attending physician at The Bryn Mawr Hospital since 1986. He is certified through the American Board of Internal Medicine. Malcolm is a One Medical Group provider and sees patients in our New York offices.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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