Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes may seem like it's in your stars when you begin counting your blood relatives that are diagnosed with it. So is type 2 diabetes a "family" disease? Many people express concern about inheriting type 2 diabetes or passing it along to their children; lets look at the hard data.

Type 2 diabetes risks

According to Joslin Diabetes Center, there are 20.8 million people in the United States with type 2 diabetes (approximately 6.2 million are undiagnosed but are living with it). Each year, there are 1.5 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Joslin states: "Type 2 diabetes represents about 90 to 95 percent of the cases and is more common in people in their 40s and beyond, in certain ethnic groups, and in those who are obese and sedentary."

Genetics vs. lifestyle

According to Joslin, those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to know another family member with it, but it is also more prevalent than type 1 diabetes. There's a strong genetic basis for the disease in less than a third of people living with type 2 diabetes—behaviors and environment impact the remaining two-thirds.

The American Diabetes Association notes that studies of twins indicate a strong genetic component of the disease. Multiple cases diagnosed in a family may be a reflection of a personal environmental risk factors such as weight, food choices, and lack of physical activity rather than a shared diabetes gene. However, studies have determined higher diagnostic risks associated with other family members.

According to Joslin, if you have:

  • A sibling with type 2 diabetes, your risk is that of the general population.
  • If your sibling developed type 2 diabetes and wasn't obese, then your risk is double that of the general population.
    • If you have a sibling and a parent with type 2 diabetes, your risk is triple that of the general population.
  • If both of your parents and a sibling have type 2 diabetes, your risk is four times that of the general population—a whopping 50 percent chance of developing the disease.

Type 2 diabetes and your spouse

A study mentioned in Medicinenet.com found a surprising statistic: a 26 percent increase in type 2 diabetes if your spouse has it.

This points to the lifestyle factors that affect diagnosis with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The importance of screening spouses of those diagnosed with diabetes cannot be overlooked.

Why so many type 2 diagnoses and fewer type 1 diagnoses?

According to Joslin Diabetes Center, numbers speak for themselves. The average person in the U.S. has a one in 100 (one percent) chance of developing type 1 diabetes by age 70, in comparison to a one in nine (11 percent) change of developing type 2 diabetes. The odds are in the favor of type 2 diabetes; however, Joslin warns "one can still get the disease even if he or she is not at apparent high risk."

To learn more on this topic:

What Friends and Family Should Know About Hypoglycemia
3 Ways to Care For Family and Your Diabetes
Why Diabetes Education is Important For You and Your Family