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Diabetes, Genetics, and Risk Factors

1.4 million people will be diagnosed with diabetes this year. How do we know if we are at risk? Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes, but there are two factors that are important in both. You inherit a predisposition to the disease, and then something in your environment triggers it.



With type 1 diabetes, there are risk factors that you inherit from both parents and then something in the environment triggers it. Genetic predisposition is one risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes. Research from 2010 found there are over fifty genes that contribute to the risk for diabetes. However, there are some other factors or triggers that are thought to be linked to the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. One trigger does seem to be cold weather, as diabetes is more often diagnosed in the winter versus the summer and tends to be more common in places with colder climates. Another trigger seems to be viruses; a virus can have a mild effect on most but in others it can trigger type 1 diabetes.


According to the American Diabetes Association, if you are a man with type 1 diabetes, the odds of your child developing diabetes are 1 in 17. If you are a woman with type 1 diabetes and your child was born before you were 25, your child’s risk is 1 in 25; if your child was born after you turned 25, your child’s risk is 1 in 100. Your child’s risk is doubled if you developed diabetes before age 11. If both you and your partner have type 1 diabetes, the risk is between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4.



Type 2 diabetes does seem to have a stronger link to family history than type 1. It also depends on environmental factors such as obesity, as obesity tends to run in families, and families have similar eating and exercise habits. If type 2 diabetes runs in your family, it may be more difficult to determine if it is due to lifestyle or genetic factors. Studies have found there are at least 150 DNA variations that are associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A
form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, also puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by exercising, losing weight, and maintaining a healthy diet.



Children learn healthy eating, diet, and exercise habits from their caregivers. It is best to continue to encourage healthy habits in children so they can reduce or prevent their chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.


If you are concerned about your risk or your child’s risk for developing diabetes, communicate your concern with your doctor. Genetic testing may be available, and your doctor may refer you to a registered dietician for help with making healthy choices. It’s important to be proactive and
informed to prevent diabetes.


About the Author:

Lindsey Messersmith works in Health and Wellness for the York County Area Agency on Aging and is part of the Diabetes’s Coalition of York.

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