Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.
— David Bly
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the United States, and the number of new cases continues to increase here, as well as around the world. Of the approximately 7.8% of Americans who currently have diabetes, 9 out of 10 have Type 2 diabetes. In the past, the onset of Type 2 diabetes typically occurred in middle age. But today, Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in young adults and even in children at alarming rates. Experts estimate that 1 of 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime.
While Type 2 diabetes is largely influenced by environmental factors, genetics play a role, too. That may sound like bad news, but in fact, having a genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes does not guarantee that a person will develop it. To the contrary, knowing that one has a genetic predisposition means a person can be proactive about preventing it.
If you are a person with Type 2 diabetes, you are in the perfect position to let your family members know that they have a higher risk of getting it, too. But — with all that you’ve learned about staying fit and managing your blood glucose levels with Type 2 diabetes — you’re also in a position to show them how to lower their risk and maybe even avoid getting it.
Type 2 diabetes runs in families. That means that your family members, especially close relatives such as siblings and children, have a strong genetic tendency to develop Type 2 diabetes. The risk of your children developing diabetes is related to the age at which you were diagnosed. If you were diagnosed before age 50, your offspring have a 1 in 7 chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. If you were diagnosed after age 50, they have a 1 in 13 chance.
There is some research that suggests a child’s risk is greater when the parent with Type 2 diabetes is the mother. The risk for getting Type 2 diabetes goes up to about 50% if both parents have it. If an identical twin has Type 2 diabetes, the other twin’s risk is almost 3 in 4.
If you have Type 2 diabetes but can’t think of any relatives who have it, chances are you have some who don’t yet know they have it. About 25% of those who have Type 2 diabetes are unaware they are living with the disease. This is unfortunate, because the longer a person has high blood glucose levels, the higher the likelihood of his developing long-term diabetes complications such as nerve damage. You can help your family members avoid such problems by being aware of their higher risk for Type 2 diabetes and making it a topic of family conversations.
Other risk factors
Having a family history of Type 2 diabetes is not the only thing that raises a person’s risk of getting diabetes. Other risk factors include older age, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Since some of these risk factors can be changed, your family members should be aware of what else is increasing their chances of developing Type 2 diabetes and what they can do to lower their risk.
Overweight and obesity. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes; the degree of risk increases as body-mass index (BMI) increases. However, this risk can be lowered by making sustainable lifestyle changes that help to reduce one’s weight. If your family members are currently overweight or obese (and even if they’re not), they can likely benefit from the healthy meal planning that is recommended as part of your treatment plan for Type 2 diabetes. Help them help themselves by sharing what you’ve learned about making healthy food choices and paying attention to portion sizes, particularly when eating high-calorie foods.