Genetic Risk Factors for Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, and, they can arise out of different circumstances. However, just about everybody who gets diabetes does so, at least in part, because of inherent genetic risk factors.

Genetic Risk Factors for Diabetes

Unfortunately, despite decades of research, the causes of diabetes, a complex issue, are only partly understood. Complicating this situation is the fact that there are multiple types of diabetes, each with its own distinct risk factors. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are the most common, encompassing about 97% or more of the cases known in the U.S. Despite the ambiguity concerning the exact causes of diabetes, most of these cases result from a combination of environmental and genetic influences.

Of all the cases of diabetes, Type 2, at about 90% of known cases, is far and away the most common.


Obesity is pretty well established as a major contributor to Type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is itself a combination of genetic background and lifestyle choices. Though it is true that the individual diet and exercise choices, as well as other lifestyle choices, are contributors to both obesity and diabetes, this is not the end of the chase. After all, some people just seem to react differently to both exercise and diet, and even some people making bad choices may not seem to have much of a problem with being overweight. However, whether from a genetic predisposition or from poor lifestyle choices, obesity is definitely a risk factor for diabetes.

This leads us to the fact that there are other risk factors for diabetes besides simply being overweight.


A history of diabetes during pregnancy contributes to part of the total risk. Nearly 40% of women who develop diabetes during pregnancy (a type known as gestational diabetes) will later develop Type 2 diabetes. This situation, when it does occur, typically occurs within 5-10 years after giving birth. Note that those who give birth to larger babies have a greater risk.


Glucose intolerance is sometimes another genetically influenced risk factor for diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes does not result from an underproduction of insulin by the pancreas, as with Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 is the result of an inadequate use of insulin which is marked by glucose intolerance (insulin resistance). It is unusual that the body should elect to refuse to accept glucose as a fuel and instead store it as fat. So far it is just a fact that, while it does not seem logical, it is still a fact for all that, and, for some, it is a genetically created factor.


As with many other health issues, for some people ethnicity may play a role as to whether or not an individual will develop Type 2 diabetes, though the reasons are not fully understood. Even after adjusting for lifestyle, Aboriginals, Africans, Latin Americans and some Asian groups seem to be at higher risk. The profile varies between 1.5 - 2 times the incidence among Caucasians, according to one Canadian study. On the other hand, the risk of Type 1 diabetes is much higher among Caucasians than any other race.


Having high blood pressure raises the odds for diabetes as well. That again is often at least partly the result of lifestyle choices (diet and exercise) but, it is another risk factor with a strong genetic aspect as well. There's a strong correlation between those with high blood pressure and those who will develop diabetes. Similarly, high cholesterol levels increase the risk. It has been found that over 40% of those with diabetes have higher than average levels of cholesterol in the blood.


While all these factors have at least some credibility as risk factors for diabetes, a simple family medical history of diabetes is probably the largest genetic risk factor.

Anyone who has a parent or sibling with Type 1 diabetes has a risk 10 - 20 times higher than the average person. A newborn with a parent who has Type 1 diabetes has odds which are 1 in 25, or 4% if the mother gives birth before age 25. After age 25, the risk is 1%, about the same as the general population. The odds rise again to approximately 10% if either of the parents contracted diabetes before age 11.

Like many facets of diabetes, the genetic risk factors of contracting diabetes are still an area of active research. While in generations past there was nothing much one could do to influence them, we are fortunate that modern knowledge and treatments hold out promise of improving the odds in favor of the diabetic.

Genetic Risk Factors for Diabetes
Web Page Copyright 2020 by Donovan Baldwin
Page Updated 2:27 PM Saturday, February 29, 2020