Diabetes Type 2

Causes and risk factors

You are at greater risk of getting diabetes if:

  • A close member of your family has diabetes
  • You are white and over 40,
  • You are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group and over 25 years old,
  • You’re overweight,
  • If you have high blood pressure and if you have had a stroke or heart attack,
  • A women with polycystic ovary syndrome and are overweight,
  • A women and you’ve had gestational diabetes.
  • You've been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.

The more risk factors that apply to you, the greater your risk of having diabetes.

The people we talked to had different ideas about what might have caused diabetes. Many believed that a family history of diabetes had predisposed them to the condition, others said it was caused by a combination of factors which included being overweight, being a heavy smoker or drinker, and not having done much exercise for years. Some people said that eating too much over many years hadn't affected them until they became middle-aged and had stopped being so active. Eating too much of the wrong kind of food and 'comfort' eating were said by several people to have contributed to their diabetes (see 'Food, Eating and Diet').

Other illnesses or health conditions, particularly having high blood pressure and high cholesterol, were also seen as contributory factors in diabetes. Some people we talked to had comoribidities (other illnesses) which had made it difficult for them to take regular exercise. 

Others wondered if having too much stress in their lives either through life events or because of pressure at work could have triggered diabetes. Others said that having a 'sedentary' job which included working at a computer screen all day or driving for a living could be partly to blame for their diabetes. 

Growing up in a stressful environment had also made some women develop eating disorders including bulimia. Several women linked their current weight problems with early childhood experiences of abuse and bullying which meant that they had taken comfort in food and/or alcohol at an early age. 

Eating too much of the 'wrong thing' such as food that was rich in sugar, salt, fats and having a habit of drinking fizzy 'pop' or fruit juice as opposed to water was also said by the people we talked to to lead to diabetes. Eating sweets and sugar does not cause diabetes, but eating a lot of sugary and fatty foods can lead to being overweight which is a risk factor.

Not everyone was interested in what had caused their diabetes and said that what mattered more was accepting the diagnosis and getting to grips with what it would mean for them in the long-term. A few people said they had no idea why they had developed diabetes and wondered if glandular problems or an unknown virus may have been responsible. 

For more information on causes and risk factors see Diabetes UK and NHS choices.

Last reviewed November 2012.

Last updated November 2012.

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