Skip to content

The #1 Root Cause of Diabetes, Say Doctors

Type 2 diabetes is a public health crisis.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Are you in danger of developing type 2 diabetes? "Type 2 diabetes is a silent killer," says Dr. Will Cole. "Of the approximately 26 million Americans who have this dangerous disease, many don't even know it. Yet, it is a leading cause of heart disease and many other health complications. Once called 'adult onset diabetes,' this disease now affects a growing number of children, ravaging not only quality of life but quantity, as diabetes shortens lifespan by up to 10 years." Here are the main causes of type 2 diabetes, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Smoking

Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table
Shutterstock

People who smoke are up to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don't, according to the CDC. "Cigarette smoking should be considered as a key modifiable risk factor for diabetes," says Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Public health efforts to reduce smoking will have a substantial impact on the global burden of type 2 diabetes."

2

High-Starch Foods

starch grains
Shutterstock

People with type 2 diabetes need to be mindful of their carbohydrate intake, experts say. "Many people don't consider vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, and peas to be sources of starch," says Jenifer Bowman, RD, a dietitian at UCHealth in Fort Collins, Colorado. "But if you're trying to regulate your blood sugar, you need to be aware of overall carbohydrate content."

3

Sedentary Lifestyle

Tired senior hispanic man sleeping on dark blue couch, taking afternoon nap at the living room
Shutterstock

Sitting down all day is strongly linked to type 2 diabetes, doctors say. "The suggestion that even those people who are physically active but also sit down for long periods have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes is interesting," says Dr. Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK. "However, not all of the studies in this review looked at this factor, so the evidence is not strong and certainly shouldn't be used to discourage people from doing physical exercise. What is clear is that anyone who spends lots of time sitting or lying down would benefit from replacing some of that time by standing or walking. Aside from any direct effect reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down may have, getting more physical activity is a great way of helping maintain a healthy weight, which is the best way of minimizing your risk of Type 2 diabetes."

4

Obesity

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video
Shutterstock

Studies show that obesity and type 2 diabetes are closely linked. "Being overweight raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke," says the American Diabetes Association. "It can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, and high blood glucose (sugar). If you are overweight, losing weight may help you prevent and manage these conditions. And you don't have to lose a lot to improve your health—even losing 10–15 pounds can make a big difference."

5

Insulin Resistance

Continuous Glucose Monitoring
Shutterstock

The root cause of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which leads to high blood sugar. 

"In people with diabetes, their cells have become so resistant to insulin that insulin can no longer keep their blood sugar levels in a healthy range," says Thomas Rutledge, PhD. "As a result, blood sugar levels run high, with catastrophic consequences if left unchecked. Unfortunately, even when a person with diabetes receives treatment, this treatment doesn't necessarily improve their underlying insulin resistance; a person can lower blood sugar levels while remaining insulin resistant, giving them a false sense of security about their health."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
Filed Under