Diabetes is a common, lifelong medical condition in which the sugar levels in your blood are too high. Having high blood sugar levels can cause several symptoms. These symptoms could range from thirst and tiredness to serious issues with vision and even heart problems. There are two different types of diabetes. This article will focus on the causes of Type 2 diabetes, which is far more common than Type 1. For more information about the condition in general, read our useful guide to diabetes here.
Statistics from diabetes.org.uk suggest that 3.9 million people are currently living with diabetes in the UK. Around 90% of these people have Type 2 diabetes, which is mostly preventable. By learning the causes of Type 2 diabetes, you can reduce your risk today.
Causes of Type 2 Diabetes
The pancreas produces insulin, an important hormone which helps the body use the sugar in the blood. It also controls how the body stores fat. If your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin, you might have Type 1 diabetes. If your body can’t respond to the insulin effectively (known as insulin resistance), you might have Type 2 diabetes.
As a result of insulin resistance, the body cannot use the glucose (sugar) in the blood. The body needs this glucose for energy, to fuel all sorts of important processes. Therefore, the body tries to produce more and more insulin, which puts a strain on the pancreas over time.
Unfortunately, the precise causes of this insulin resistance are hard to pinpoint. However, there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. Keep reading to find out how to reduce your risk.
Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Obesity is perhaps the biggest risk factor when it comes to Type 2 diabetes. Rates of obesity in England have almost doubled in the last 20 years, putting millions of people at risk of diabetes.
People who are carrying excess weight are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, particularly if this weight is around their middle. Losing excess weight can be incredibly beneficial for lots of reasons. It lowers your diabetes risk and makes it easier to manage diabetes if you’ve already been diagnosed. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of many other common medical conditions.
After obesity, the next most important risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is genetics. According to Diabetes UK, if you have close relatives with Type 2 diabetes, you are between two and six times more likely to develop the condition yourself. Aside from family history, your ethnicity can also be a risk factor. People of South Asian descent are up to 6 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, while African and African-Caribbean people are up to 3 times more likely.
Age is another important risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. As we get older, we all become more likely to develop the condition. The risk for white people goes up around the age of 40, while African-Caribbean, black African, or South Asian people are more at risk from the age of 25.
Other Risk Factors
There are many other risk factors that are thought to contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes, some of which are lifestyle choices. These risk factors include:
- Sedentary Lifestyle – It’s important to stay active with regular exercise. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to being overweight which, as we know, increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Not sure where to start with getting more active? Take a look at our seven sport and fitness activities for older people.
- Unhealthy Diet – Eating a healthy diet is very important. A so-called Western diet, consisting of lots of processed foods and little fibre, can increase your risk of diabetes. You can lower your risk of diabetes by eating healthily.
- Gestational Diabetes – This form of diabetes affects around 2-5% of women who become pregnant. After gestational diabetes, your lifetime risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases.
Of course, there isn’t anything we can do about our genetics. However, there are lots of lifestyle factors that we can control in order to reduce the risk of diabetes. For more advice, read any of the articles linked below:
- An In-Depth Guide to Healthy Living
- 7 Sport and Fitness Activities for Older People
- The Eatwell Guide: A Well-Balanced Diet
For more information about diabetes and its symptoms, read our in-depth guide here.
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Editor’s Note: this article was updated on 23rd November 2020 to reflect current information. It was originally published February 2019.