The causes and risks for each type of diabetes vary, but genetics plays a role. Experts are not positive what causes type 1 diabetes. They believe an autoimmune disorder, in which the body makes antibodies that destroy pancreatic cells, may be the culprit.
The main cause of type 2 diabetes, in which the body doesn't process blood glucose as well as it should, is obesity. A recent survey showed a 33 percent increase in the number of Americans with type 2 diabetes over an eight-year period. The increase skyrocketed to 70 percent in people ages 30 to 39 years old and was linked to a sharp rise in obesity in that group.
Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include age (people older than 45), lack of physical exercise, high blood pressure (defined as a blood pressure equal to or greater than 140/90), low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and a high triglyceride level.
Diabetes and Ethnicity
Type 1 diabetes is more common in Caucasians than in other ethnic groups. Experts don't know why some northern European countries, including Finland and Sweden, have high rates of type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. It is also more common in older people, especially in those who are overweight. Native Americans have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. On average, they are 2.2 times as likely to have diabetes as Caucasians of a similar age.
Diabetes and Women
Women can be more prone to type 2 diabetes if they have a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes may be caused by above average weight gain and increased hormone levels, which work against insulin. Hormonal changes linked to menopause are also a risk factor for women.
Research has shown that walking briskly for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week reduces a woman's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.