Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes continued...

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than one of every four Americans is obese, having a BMI of 30 to 39.9; 6% of Americans have clinically severe obesity, which means they have a BMI of 40 or greater.

Other risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include: 

  • Impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose. Prediabetes is a milder form of diabetes that's sometimes called impaired glucose tolerance. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Prediabetes is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. The CDC estimates that as many as 79 million children and adults in the U.S. have prediabetes.
  • Insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes often starts with cells that are resistant to insulin. That means they are unable to take in insulin as it moves glucose from the blood into cells. With insulin resistance, the pancreas has to work overly hard to produce enough insulin so cells can get the energy they need. This involves a complex process that eventually leads to type 2 diabetes.
  • Ethnic background. Diabetes occurs more often in Hispanic/Latino Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Alaska natives.
  • High blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for diabetes. High blood pressure is generally defined as 140/90 mm Hg or higher. Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and high triglyceride levels also put you at risk.
  • History of gestational diabetes. If you developed diabetes while you were pregnant, you've had what is called gestational diabetes. Having had gestational diabetes puts you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Being inactive -- exercising fewer than three times a week -- makes you more likely to develop diabetes.
  • Family history. Having a family history of diabetes -- a parent or sibling who's been diagnosed with this condition -- increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Age. Some doctors advise anyone over age 45 to be screened for diabetes. That's because increasing age puts you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It's important to remember, though, that people at any age can develop diabetes. If you're over 45 and overweight or if you have symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor about a simple screening test.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes triggered by pregnancy is called gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM, and it affects about 4% of all U.S. pregnancies. It's caused by hormones that are produced by the placenta during pregnancy or by too little insulin. High blood sugar from the mother crosses the placenta, causing high blood sugar in the baby. That can lead to growth and development problems if left untreated. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include the following:

  • Obesity or being overweight. Being obese or overweight puts women at risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Previous glucose intolerance. A history of glucose intolerance or previous gestational diabetes increases the risk of gestational diabetes in a current pregnancy.
  • Family history. A family history of diabetes -- a parent or sibling who's been diagnosed with diabetes -- increases the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Age. The older a woman is when she becomes pregnant, the higher her risk of gestational diabetes.

Whatever your risk factors for diabetes may be, there's a lot you can do to delay or prevent diabetes. To manage your risk of diabetes, you should:

  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Keep your weight within or near normal range
  • Get moderate exercise on most days
  • Eat a balanced diet

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 02, 2014

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
Woman serving fast food from window
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
are battery operated toothbrushes really better

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture