Diabetes complications

Risk Factors for Diabetes Type 2

Forewarned is forearmed, are you predisposed to getting type 2 diabetes? Learn about type 2 diabetes risk factors.

There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but the biggest of these risks can be addressed by Diet and exercise, are both essential elements in preventing and treating diabetes type 2. This statement is backed up by numerous studies that clearly show that implementing a personalised plan for both diet and exercise with diabetes type 2 in mind, is effective. So much so that it can prevent type 2 diabetes or even reverse it. This is true even for those people defined as at high risk. This is because so many of the risks associated with getting diabetes type 2 are linked to either a sedentary lifestyle or dietary habits.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

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The main contributing factors listed below are used to determine a person's level of risk for type 2 diabetes.

  • Family history - forewarned is forearmed.
  • Race and ethnicity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Inactivity
  • Fat distribution - a high ratio of abdomen fat vs the rest of the body

Every single one of these diabetes risk factors can be addressed with a combination of diet and exercise. Losing weight in a slow and steady way can help enormously in the long term. There are other risk factors, such as smoking and socioeconomic factors beyond this article's scope. All of these listed points are inextricably linked and therefore be addressed together.

Family history, and race and ethnicity, are linked; a genetic predisposition can run in both family lines and in isolated populations because they share a genetic history. Specific sets of genes are inherited, affecting how fat is stored in the family line and the wider population over a longer time frame and through many generations.  

Ethnicity also plays an important part in-common national or cultural traditions, in terms of food or social patterns that clash with a healthy lifestyle (smoking, drinking alcohol, traditional fatty, fried foods in excess are also higher risk factors). Behaviour varies from country to country, continent to continent, and consequently differs between ethnic groups and in many other ways, adding additional layers of complexity.

Body Type and Diabetes Type 2 risk

In fashion, the phrase body type is often used to describe a person's shape, and clothes are manufactured to meet the needs of different body types. In the same way, diets and exercise routines can be tailored to address body types, but only in a very broad way. The term - body type refers to where fat storage occurs in the body; it varies from population to population and is a trait shared within families. 

Your body type - where you store fat can affect your type 2 diabetes risk

Central obesity, sometimes referred to as truncal obesity or Abdominal obesity, results in an “apple-shaped” body appearance and is more common among men than women. 

Women typically accumulate fat around the hips, bottom, and thigh and may have a slim waist, thus causing the distinctive “pear-shaped” body type.  When the waist is not slim, then these individuals can be “apple-shaped”.

The outcome of one study found a significant relationship between waist circumference (WC) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) to an increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. The paper recommended that these simple measures of abdominal obesity should be incorporated into CVD risk assessments.

For more information about measurements see here.

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Measure Weight AND Body fat

A much better tool to base your planning on is the Body Mass Index (BMI). One drawback of the BMI with regards to managing Type 2 diabetes is that while your BMI can tell you if you're carrying too much weight, it can't tell if you're carrying too much fat because BMI can't tell the difference between excess fat, muscle, or bone. This is why body fat must also be measured.

In one study it was found fat to be a more reliable indicator than being overweight.  

“This high body fat percent link to abnormal blood glucose holds up even when we control for things like age, sex, race/ethnicity, family history of diabetes, vigorous-intensity exercise and muscle strengthening activities,” Mainous said. 

Image Source - Freepik

DNA analysis and Type 2 Diabetes

DNA analysis can assist in providing additional information; however, there are at least 400 genes that have been found to play a part in fat regulation; but much about how they all interact (epigenetics) is still unknown.  

DNA analysis can determine if you carry specific genes (genetic variations) that are known to affect how a person stores fat greatly, which is useful in the absence of any obvious cause. In addition, it can also help to identify many other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.  

Race, Ethnicity, and diet for Type 2 Diabetes

Individuals from certain races and ethnic groups are predisposed to getting type 2 diabetes.  Again this is in-part due to genetic differences affecting how fat is stored between different races. For example, Chinese Americans have a far greater chance of getting diabetes than Chinese; the same is true for other Asian groups living in America. It is thought that the western diet, which is high in sugar and fat relative to the traditional Asian diet, is the cause. However, It is no longer just a western diet issue because fast-food chains and their business model and practices are now global. 

Today, 60% of all cases of diabetes are in Asia, the causes of which are many but are collectively/broadly attributed to diet, lifestyle and environmental changes that have occurred in a very short time frame, to which our bodies are ill-equipped to adapt.

Even though traditional foods are considered healthier because they are usually sourced locally and cooked at home, they are often far from being healthy because of how they are cooked. Yet they are still a better choice than the highly processed foods found in western-diets and other places with a high amount of pre-packaged processed fast foods.

The best course of action 

Trying to manage a complicated exercise regime while also adhering to a dietary plan is extremely stressful (stress in itself is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes!).  

The solution is to take it one step at a time; the first step is to get control of your diet with a dietary plan using a Mediterranean diet and the Glycemic Index of foods as a guide and with the help of a qualified dietician. Develop a routine, as part of finding a way to manage your diet effectively within the circus of life. This is made simpler by adopting new technologies to manage your prediabetes or diabetes diet with a smartphone food tracker and food diary app.

Once you are successfully managing your diet, then you can add-in an additional exercise routine. You could also invest in a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device which can sync to your chosen application providing real-time updates as you exercise and enabling you to generate useful charts about your BGL’s overtime.

Carefully watch how your exercise routine affects your blood glucose levels (BGL’s), and adapt your diet to regulate your BGL’s accordingly. You may need to eat and drink, before, during, or/and after exercise.

Countering High Blood Pressure with Exercise and diet to prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Regular physical activity strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system and thereby reduces blood pressure, regardless of race, ethnicity, or family history. If you do have high blood pressure, make sure you monitor it and take dietary action. The Mediterranean diet is one great option we recommend to both prevent and manage Diabetes.

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Richard Johnson
Reading time: 
April 25, 2022

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