Is Type 2 Diabetes Hereditary?

5/13/19
WRITTEN BY: T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education
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Let’s be honest, living with Type 2 diabetes means enduring some unfortunate stereotypes. People assume you’re lazy, overweight or obese, hate exercise, and don’t know how to eat a healthy diet. If you bring up your family having a history of diabetes, especially Type 2, people assume you’re making excuses for your “lifestyle” choices. You know they’re wrong, but why? What’s the connection between Type 2 diabetes and genetics and is it hereditary?

What’s in Those Genes?

In short, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes can be attributed to genetics. But instead of thinking of Type 2 diabetes as hereditary, consider it a matter of personal susceptibility. A report by the World Health Organization revealed people with immediate family members who have diabetes are three times more likely to develop it than those without a family history of it.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent of all diabetes cases. There’s no formal definition for it because Type 2 diabetes cases are determined by excluding the other types of diabetes such as Type 1, Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), and Maturity-Onset-Diabetes-of the Young (MODY).

In a family where Type 2 diabetes is prevalent, a person has a 40 percent chance of developing it if one parent has Type 2 diabetes and 70 percent if both parents have it. Compared to the general population, you’re three times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes if you have a sibling or parent and six times more likely if both parents have it.

A child is more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if their mother has it, in contrast to children of fathers with Type 1 diabetes. A likely reason for this is due to permanent changes in glucose-insulin functions as a result of poor nutrition and uncontrolled blood sugar during pregnancy.

How Your Environment Affects Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Your environmental factors can increase your susceptibility to developing Type 2 diabetes. This goes far deeper than just your actions of eating unhealthy foods or choosing not to exercise; familial, cultural, social, economic, and even personality traits matter, too. These factors all influence your views on healthy living. Here are some examples of how your environment affects your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes:

Family

If you were raised in a family where foods high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium were the norm, switching to a healthier diet of mostly unprocessed foods would be challenging. The opposite is also true. If your family prioritized the consumption of fresh unprocessed foods and encouraged physical activity, you’re more likely to maintain those habits as an adult.

Cultural influences on health matter, too. Different cultures and backgrounds have different sets of beliefs, norms, and values in regards to health. This includes deeply-rooted opinions on topics such as body image, gender roles, treatment options, including beliefs about how diet and medicine affect diabetes.

Society

What we see in our media, how policies affect us, and the interactions we have with other people outside of our household influence our behaviors as well. Look at it this way: if you see fast food advertised on your television screen more than healthy food, which are you more likely to eat? The answer might be fast food because the commercial is triggering food-associated stimuli that affect your food choices. This means, even if you have the best intentions of eating a healthier diet, advertisements for unhealthy ones can send the strongest food cues and determine what you’ll eat.

This also includes policies that affect what kinds of food gets put in our grocery stores or if a restaurant is mandated to have nutritional information on their menus. It also includes how we learn about food, health, and nutrition in the first place; think about the policies that decide how health education is prioritized in schools and the quality of the content.

Our interactions with people outside of our household can affect our health, too. Think about the workplace. If your job has office activities that involve food – and let’s be real, there’s always food – you’re probably going to eat something. Most offices order food that will encourage employees to participate, such as baked goods or pizza. Offices generally have snack machines or snacks readily available to help employees pass the time. If you work in a sedentary position, imagine the impact all of this has on your health. 

Environment

Your financial status and neighborhood can influence your ability to access the medical, recreational, and food services you need to maintain optimal health. Walkability refers to the amount of space and ease of getting around an area that proves supportive for walking. A higher level of walkability is associated with lower risks of Type 2 diabetes. Included in this definition are destination accessibility and safety. If you live in a large city with close or direct access to a quality grocery store, your area is considered to be walkable. However, if your neighborhood is unsafe, it may deter you from venturing to the store or even going out for a walk for exercise.

A low-level of walkability might mean you travel long distances to get the care you need to manage diabetes. For example, if your primary care doctor or pharmacy are miles from home, you’re less likely to maintain regular visits or pick up your medication on a regular basis. Unfortunately, your financial status determines where you live and the quality of your neighborhood can determine the quality of food options and medical care you receive. Lower-income and impoverished neighborhoods are more likely to have a lack of access to healthy food and high-quality medical facilities. This increases the likelihood of a diabetes diagnosis and the risks of having serious, life-threatening diabetes-related complications.

What do we think?

So, is Type 2 diabetes hereditary? Not completely, but genetics shouldn’t be disregarded either. It’s a mix of prevalence in your own family plus the influence of your surroundings. You should definitely tell your doctor if Type 2 diabetes runs in your family and take extra care of yourself if it does. This means getting your blood sugar tested regularly, knowing which blood sugar numbers indicate diabetes, maintaining a balanced diet and exercise regimen, and taking it upon yourself to to be able to easily recognize the symptoms and signs of diabetes.

 



T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education

T’ara was misdiagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in July 2017 at the age of 25 and was diagnosed with LADA in 2019. Since her diagnosis, she focused her academic studies and career on diabetes awareness and living a full life with it. She’s excited to have joined the Beyond Type 1 team to continue her work. Outside the office, T’ara enjoys going to the movies, visiting parks with her dog, listening to BTS, and cooking awesome healthy meals. T’ara holds an MS in Nutrition Education from American University.