All in the Family?

Family members may be at risk to develop diabetes.

Jim Williams

HealthKey.com contributor

November 10, 2009


If you're a parent with diabetes, one of your biggest concerns may be that your children will also become diabetic.

The American Diabetes Association holds that type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes, but two common risk factors: one, you must inherit a predisposition to the diabetes; and two, something in your environment must trigger the disease. So, are your children or other members of your family at risk? Genes alone are not enough, according to the ADA.

Type 1

People most often inherit risk factors for type 1 diabetes from both parents. But because most people who are at risk do not get diabetes, researchers want to find out what the environmental triggers are. One might be cold weather, as type one is more prevalent in colder climates. A virus might kick-start the development of type 1. The ADA believes early diet may play a role. Fact is, the development of type 1 diabetes in most people seems to take many years.

Type 2

Mom and Dad's genetic footprint seems to play a much larger role in type 2 diabetes, but again, environment is key. Certainly, family history of type 2 diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors, but it only seems to matter in people living a Western lifestyle, which is all about eating too much fat, not enough carbohydrates and fiber, and too little exercise.

The other key risk factor has to do with weight. Obesity is common in those who develop type 2 diabetes. The ADA identifies obesity as most risky for young people and for people who have been obese for a long time.

What are the Odds?

According to the ADA, if you are a man with type 1 diabetes, the odds of your child getting diabetes are 1 in 17. If you are a woman with type 1 diabetes and your child was born before you were 25, your child's risk is 1 in 25; if your child was born after you turned 25, your child's risk is 1 in 100.

Type 2 diabetes runs in families. In part, this tendency is due to children learning bad habits - eating a poor diet, not exercising - from their parents. But there is also a genetic basis.

In general, if you have type 2 diabetes, the risk of your child getting diabetes is 1 in 7 if you were diagnosed before age 50 and 1 in 13 if you were diagnosed after age 50. Some research shows that a child's risk is greater when the parent with type 2 diabetes is the mother. If both the mother and father have type 2 diabetes, the child's risk is about 1 in 2.