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  Diabetes - Type 2 - Who's at risk

Who Gets It? When a person has type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or the cells cannot use the insulin that is naturally produced by the body. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which your body needs to let blood sugar into cells so the sugar can be broken down to create energy. When your cells are not able to use insulin (a condition called insulin resistance) or your body does not produce enough insulin, too much sugar stays in the bloodstream. This starves cells of energy and, over time, high blood sugar levels may damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.

  • Common signs and symptoms may include any of the following:
  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • extreme fatigue
  • repeated or slow-healing infections
  • blurred vision
  • tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet

Some people may not experience these or any symptoms. For a complete list of symptoms, click here.

Anyone can be diagnosed with diabetes. Age, weight, heredity and ethnic background can all affect the degree of risk for developing the disease.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes has officially reached epidemic proportions. The study found that from 1990 to 2000, the number of American adults who have diabetes increased by 49 percent, an increase reflected in all demographic and geographic segments of the population. The growing prevalence was attributed largely to a similarly dramatic rise in obesity, as well as to sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating.

Obesity, which was also declared an epidemic in the United States, is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Most patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and obesity itself causes some degree of insulin resistance, an underlying cause of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes and its complications occur among Americans of all ages and ethnicities, but the elderly and certain racial/ethnic groups are more commonly affected by the disease. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans and Hispanics/ Latino Americans are about two times more likely to have diabetes. Native Americans are about 2.6 times more likely to have the disease compared with non-Hispanic whites; in fact, one tribe in Arizona has the highest rate of diabetes in the world, with about 50 percent of the adults between the ages of 30 and 64 with the disease. Public health concern is likely to increase as minority populations grow and the U.S. population becomes older.

In addition, the following characteristics increase the risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • People who are over the age of 45
  • People who are overweight
  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • People with low amounts of HDL (the "good" cholesterol that removes cholesterol build-p from artery walls) or high amounts of triglycerides (fats) in their blood
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth


Approximately 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. And, since the symptoms often appear gradually, nearly 5 million more have it and don't even know it.

Several factors make it more likely that a person will develop diabetes. Some of these risk factors can be controlled and some can't.

Controllable risk factors:

  • Obesity. You're at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes if you're 20% or more above your healthiest body weight.
  • Lack of physical activity. A "couch potato" lifestyle can lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels.
  • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Either or both of these conditions make you more prone to type 2 diabetes.

Uncontrollable risk factors:

  • Family history. Your risk is higher if you have an immediate family member with diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes, or delivering a baby over 9 pounds. Women who had diabetes during pregnancy or had a large baby are at greater risk for developing diabetes later.
  • Age. Type 2 diabetes is more common in people over 40, but it's increasing among younger people and children due to poor diet and lack of activity.
  • Ethnic group. African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans are more likely than Caucasians to develop diabetes.

The more of these risk factors you have, the likelier it is that you will develop type 2 diabetes. But, most cases can be linked to two things that can be controlled -- too much weight and too little physical activity.

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