risk factors type 2 diabetes

Five social and behavioral risk factors for type 2 diabetes

Seventh leading cause of death in the United States is a largely preventable disease
June 20, 2016

Diabetes is an epidemic plaguing the nation, and it is considered to be largely preventable. Over 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, and one out of four don’t realize they have the chronic disease. What factors are contributing to this rising number, and what can you do to keep from becoming another statistic?

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Access to care

Access to health care is a major issue affecting Americans with chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Rural regions and low income areas in cities often face barriers to access, such as poor (or nonexistent) public transportation, few or no health care providers in the area and poor health insurance coverage. Even if they are able to see a health care provider, many people are unable to afford the costs of managing diabetes with medications.

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Community infrastructure

The way your community is built can affect your health. Areas that lack sidewalks, bike paths or recreational areas—amenities that encourage physical activity—contribute to obesity, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes for residents. Additionally, the location of grocery stores/supermarkets in a community can affect the ability to establish a healthy lifestyle because residents lack access to healthier food choices. Over 23 million Americans live in rural and low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket, which makes them, in common public health parlance, “food deserts.” Initiatives like the Let’s Move campaign are working toward helping these areas make healthy foods available and safe places for physical activity more accessible to their inhabitants.


The level of education you have could influence your risk of diabetes, with some studies finding that people with more education are less likely to have diabetes. This could be attributed to the fact that education level can determine your occupation, financial status, access to health care and health literacy—the ability to understand basic health information to make health decisions. Adults over the age of 25 with an additional four years of education are also shown to have more positive health behaviors, reducing the risk of obesity from 23 percent to 18 percent and the risk of diabetes from 7 percent to 5.7 percent.

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Economic stability

Your household income or employment status may affect your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Lack of resources may prevent you from affording health insurance to access medical care and purchasing healthier food choices for you and your family. Often, the most calorie-laden and nutrient-poor foods are the least expensive. However, it’s important to know that good food choices are not always exorbitantly priced. Inexpensive items like beans and rice make a complete and nutritious protein, and fruits and vegetables bought in season can also be a good value.

Social support

If you have little to no social support—from family, friends or other members of your community—in your life, your health may take a hit. Social support promotes awareness and prevention of diseases, including type 2 diabetes. In fact, a study from the Center for Health Disparities Research found that high levels of social support leads to better health outcomes, mentally and physically, due to being able to express feelings and having someone to turn to for guidance and advice.

— Suzannah Smith

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