More than 200,000 people under 20 have diabetes, and most of them have Type 1 diabetes. If you’re a teenager who’s concerned about getting diabetes, you should understand the risk factors — and know what you can and cannot control.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when your blood glucose, otherwise known as blood sugar, is too high. The pancreas produces insulin, which plays an important role in converting glucose (sugar, starches and other food) to energy. Type 1 (formerly called juvenile) diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin. In Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset), the pancreas still makes some insulin but cannot effectively use it. Both types of diabetes increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and foot or leg amputations. There is no cure for diabetes but you can manage the disease through some combination of medication, insulin therapy and a healthy lifestyle, depending on the type of diabetes. (To learn more about managing diabetes, the American Diabetes Association has resources for both Type 1 and Type 2.)
Five percent of people with diabetes have Type 1. Most people who fall in this group inherit risk factors from both parents. But simply inheriting a genetic predisposition isn’t enough to cause diabetes — something in the environment needs to trigger it. Researchers don’t know exactly what triggers Type 1 diabetes, but possibilities include cold weather (cooler regions and colder months), viruses and diet. For instance, Type 1 diabetes is less common in people who were breastfed and in those who started eating solid foods later.
If your dad has Type 1 diabetes, the odds that you’ll get it are 1 in 17. If your mom has it, the risk varies depending on how old she was when you were born. If she had you before age 25, the chance that you’ll get Type 1 diabetes is 1 in 25. If she gave birth to you after 25, the chance is only 1 in 100. If one of your parents developed Type 1 diabetes before age 11, your risk doubles. If both your parents have it, there’s a 10 to 25 percent chance you’ll get it.
Type 2 diabetes is more closely linked to family history than Type 1, but environment and lifestyle also play a role. Research shows that you can delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes through a combination of healthy eating and exercise.
If one of your parents has Type 2 diabetes, your risk falls between 8 and 14 percent, depending on his or her age at the time of diagnosis. There’s about a 50 percent chance you’ll get Type 2 diabetes if both your parents have it.
If you have questions about your risk for diabetes, talk with your parents to learn more about your family history, and also talk with your doctor about what you can do to manage your individual risk.
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