Who Gets Diabetes?

The risk factors associated with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are different. For both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, having a family history of diabetes puts you at a higher risk for developing the disease than a person with no family history of diabetes.

However, many people with type 1 diabetes have no known family history of the disease. Type 1 diabetes is more common among whites than among members of other racial groups. In contrast, members of American Indian, African American, and Hispanic ethnic groups are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

A major difference in the characteristics of individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes is the age of onset.

Typically, type 1 diabetes develops in individuals under the age of 40. Half of all people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are under the age of 20. In contrast, most of the people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are over the age of 30, although type 2 diabetes is on the rise among children and teenagers.

Do You Have MODY?
Other types of diabetes also exist that do not fit the type 1 or type 2 profile. For example, maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) usually affects young adults, but can also affect teens and children. It can be misdiagnosed as type 1 in younger patients. Adults with MODY develop diabetes at a younger age than most type 2 patients and do not tend to be overweight or sedentary. In the past, people with MODY were often told they had a form of type 2 diabetes. We now know that MODY is caused by a genetic mutation that leads to impaired insulin secretion. Insulin resistance, which is often found in type 2 diabetes, does not usually occur in MODY.

If you have MODY, you may be able to manage your blood glucose levels through diet and exercise alone, at least for a while.

However, therapies that work for people with type 2 diabetes do not always work for people with MODY. You may have more success with insulin therapy or oral agents that stimulate insulin secretion.

The risk for type 2 increases with age. Half of all new cases of type 2 diabetes are in people age 55 and older.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in overweight and obese individuals, whereas body weight does not seem to be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is often found in women with a history of giving birth to babies weighing more than 9 pounds and in women who were previously diagnosed with gestational diabetes. In both men and women, high blood pressure and very high concentrations of fats (cholesterol) in the blood are more common in people with type 2 diabetes.

You can’t get diabetes-either type 1 or type 2-from exposure to someone who already has diabetes, or from something you ate. And although diabetes may reveal itself after an illness or a stressful experience, these situations may have only sped up the appearance of the disease.

Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robert M. Anderson, EdD
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Shereen Arent, JD
National Director of Legal Advocacy
American Diabetes Association

American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes

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