Diabetes: A National Plan for Action. Risk Factors for Diabetes


Diabetes occurs in people of all ages and racial and ethnic groups. Researchers do not fully understand the cause of type 1 diabetes or what can be done to prevent it. Research suggests that type 1 diabetes has a strong genetic basis that is modified by environmental factors. Certain viruses are among the factors that have been suggested, but the definitive factors have yet to be determined.27 Having a family member with type 1 diabetes puts one at higher risk for developing the disease.28 However, most type 1 diabetes patients do not have a family history of the disease. Research is currently being done to learn more about the genetic and environmental factors important in type 1 diabetes.

Research conducted to date has identified specific risk factors related to the development of type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, and gestational diabetes, including family history, a sedentary lifestyle, and overweight or obesity (Table 1). Maintaining a healthy weight as measured by body mass index (BMI) reduces one’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, or gestational diabetes.29 BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height (see Figure 3). Studies have shown that BMI is significantly correlated with body fat content for most adults. For adults, a BMI less than 25 is considered a healthy weight. Regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet can help attain and maintain a healthy weight.

Table 1. Risk Factors and Associated Medical Conditions for Diabetes

Risk Factor Type 1 Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes Pre-diabetes Gestational Diabetes
Family History
Family member with diabetes X X X X
Overweight or obesity   X X X
Sedentary lifestyle (exercise fewer than three times per week)   X X X
Associated Medical Conditions or Events
Impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose   X X X
High blood pressure   X X  
Low HDL cholesterol and/or high triglycerides   X X  
History of gestational diabetes   X X X
Delivered baby 9 lbs. or heavier   X X X
Black   X X X
Hispanic/Latino American   X X X
Native American   X X X
Asian American   X X X
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry   X X X

SOURCES: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Am I at risk for type 2 diabetes? NIH Publication No. 04-4805. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/riskfortype2/. Insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. Available at:
http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/. What I need to know about gestational diabetes. NIH Pub No. 04-5129. Available at:
http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/gestational/#3. Accessed May 28, 2004.


Figure 3. Body Mass Index


SOURCE: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity 2001

27 Graves PM, Norris JM, Pallansch MA, Gerling IC, Rewers M. (1997). The role of enterviral infections in the development of IDDM: Limitations of current approaches. Diabetes, 46: 161-168; and Salminen KK, Vuorinen T, Oikarinen S, Helminen M, Simell S, Knip M, Ilonen J, Simell O, and Hyöty H. (2004). Isolation of enterovirus strains from children with preclinical type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Medicine, 21:156-164.

28 Diabetes Research Working Group. Conquering Diabetes: Highlights of program efforts, research advances and opportunities. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/federal/dwg/2002/3summary.pdf. 2002.

29 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). National diabetes statistics. NIH Publication No. 04-3892. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.htm. 2004; and Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, op.cit.

View full report


"NDAP04.pdf" (pdf, 1.47Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®