Sedentary lifestyle. Low levels of physical activity have become common in the United States, not just among adults, but among children, too. The health benefits of physical activity are well documented and include improved sensitivity to insulin — or reduced insulin resistance. Since insulin resistance is associated with many health problems, including high blood glucose levels, reducing it has widespread effects in the body.
If you’re a parent of kids who aren’t very active, do what you can to encourage more activity. Limit their screen time, organize active family activities, and sign them up for sports or lessons that they enjoy. Set a good example by being active yourself, and model how to overcome setbacks, such as missing workouts because of sickness or bad weather.
Ethnic or racial background. People with certain ethnic or racial backgrounds are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. At present, it is known that the following groups have a higher-than-average risk:
- Asian Americans
- Hispanic Americans, with the risk being highest for those of Puerto Rican descent
While race and ethnicity are factors that cannot be changed, being aware of them as risk factors can encourage your family members to take care of any modifiable risks they may have sooner rather than later.
Gestational diabetes. Having had gestational diabetes — a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and usually disappears once the baby is delivered — significantly raises a woman’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Having delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds also raises the risk, even if a woman was not diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes is commonly diagnosed between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy and is treated with dietary changes, physical activity, and, in some cases, medicine for lowering blood glucose levels. Women who develop gestational diabetes during one pregnancy are at higher risk of developing it during future pregnancies. However, women who have had gestational diabetes can substantially lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on by following a program of healthy eating and regular exercise after pregnancy.
Just as gestational diabetes raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes for women, so does a family history of Type 2 diabetes raise the risk of developing gestational diabetes. The daughters of parents with Type 2 diabetes need to be aware of this risk as they approach childbearing age. In addition, a mother’s gestational diabetes increases the child’s future risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, so if you had gestational diabetes while pregnant, your child or children can benefit from that information.
High blood pressure. Having high blood pressure raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Your relatives, therefore, should ask what their blood pressure is when it’s measured during routine health visits and follow their health-care provider’s advice for lowering it or for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
High cholesterol. People with Type 2 diabetes typically have a pattern of blood fat levels that includes high triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and increased numbers of small, dense LDL (“bad”) cholesterol particles, which are more damaging to blood vessels than “normal” LDL cholesterol particles. This pattern of blood fats is also predictive of Type 2 diabetes and is known to raise the risk of heart disease. Your family members should therefore be aware of their blood fat levels and any risks associated with them.