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The Causes and Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 18, 2022

    The Causes and Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes

    Many Filipinos suffer from diabetes, a disease characterized by increased blood sugar levels. Because its complications could be life-altering, it’s important to understand why this can happen. What are the causes and risk factors of diabetes type 2?

    Insulin Resistance: The Cause of Type 2 Diabetes

    Before we discuss the non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors of type 2 diabetes, we first need to discuss what causes the disease. These concepts will be helpful in understanding type 2 diabetes:

    • Our body uses glucose, a type of sugar, for energy.
    • We get glucose from our diet.
    • The glucose gets absorbed from the bloodstream and enters the cell, where it is converted into energy.
    • The cell won’t accept glucose readily unless there’s insulin, a hormone which the pancreas produces. In other words, insulin acts as the key to let the glucose into the cell.

    Type 2 diabetes happens when the cells become insulin-resistant, or when the cells are unresponsive to the presence of insulin. Unable to enter the cell, the glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, resulting in high blood glucose levels or high blood sugar.

    With the pancreas sensing that there is still a lot of sugar in the blood, it will compensate by producing more insulin. In the long run, the insulin-producing pancreatic cells won’t be able to keep up. By this time, a diabetic patient would most likely need insulin therapy.

    Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes

    While there’s still no scientific explanation as to why insulin resistance occurs, medical experts have identified several risk factors that increase a person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Some of these risk factors are non-modifiable, which means you can’t do anything about them. However, the other risk factors are modifiable, so you have a chance to either improve or eliminate them.

    Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

    The non-modifiable risk factors for Type 2 DM are the following:

    Family History. According to reports, your risk of developing diabetes significantly increases when at least one of your relatives is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In fact, you are 2 to 6 times more at risk if one of your parents, siblings, or children has type 2 diabetes.

    Race or ethnicity. Various records have observed that people who of Asian, African, Hispanic, Native American, and Polynesian descent are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

    Age. Age is also one of the causes and risk factors of diabetes type 2. Your risk of developing diabetes increases with age, especially if you’re over 45 years old. While age is technically a non-modifiable risk factor, medical experts suggest that it may be connected to some of the modifiable risk factors of the type 2 diabetes. For instance, as people get older, they generally have a slower metabolism, have less time for exercise and can consequently gain more weight.

    Modifiable Risk Factors

    These are the risk factors you can “control” through lifestyle and diet:

    Weight. One of the most notable modifiable risk factors of type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. Though the association between weight and type 2 diabetes is still not clearly understood, scientists have identified some patterns:

    • Studies have concluded that by reducing obesity, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can drop by up to 75%.
    • Extra weight can cause insulin resistance.
    • The location of the body fat matters. Reports highlight that extra fat in the belly can influence insulin resistance and cardiovascular conditions. More specifically, a man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or a woman with a  waistline of 35 inches is more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

    While obesity is a main risk factor for the disease, a person does not have to be overweight or obese to develop type 2 diabetes.

    Sedentary Lifestyle. Another one of the causes and risk factors of diabetes type 2 is the lack of physical activity. Scientists emphasize that being active is highly advantageous because it:

    • Helps you control your weight, thereby preventing overweight and obesity.
    • Makes your cells more sensitive to insulin, which means less possibility for insulin resistance.
    • Generally allows your body to absorb and use glucose for energy.

    A study even stated that you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 50% if you increase your physical activity.

    causes and risk factors of diabetes type 2

    Health Conditions that Predispose a Person to Type 2 Diabetes

    Some conditions can make you more prone to type 2 diabetes. These are:


    Prediabetes happens when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it’s not high enough to be categorized as diabetes. Please take note that prediabetes is reversible and preventable. Moreover, it shares many risk factors with type 2 diabetes.

    Gestational Diabetes

    Doctors observed that if you developed diabetes during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes), you are more likely to have type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, mothers who gave birth to a big baby (more than 4 kg in weight) are also more at risk, and even vice versa.

    Conditions that Affect Heart Health

    The causes and risk factors of diabetes type 2 may also include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Low levels of good cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides (fats from carbohydrates)
  • History of a heart disease or stroke
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

    Women who have PCOS are often insulin resistant, making them more vulnerable to diabetes type 2. Additionally, PCOS is sometimes characterized by symptoms like obesity.

    Acanthosis Nigricans

    Acanthosis nigricans is physical evidence of insulin resistance. People who have this condition exhibit dark, thick, and velvety skin on their groin, armpits, and neck.

    Key Takeaways

    The exact reason why someone develops diabetes is still unknown, but there are identified factors associated with the condition. To reduce your risk, focus on the modifiable risk factors of type 2 diabetes such as weight and lifestyle.

    Learn more about Type 2 Diabetes here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 18, 2022

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