Is diabetes genetic?

Family Health
Nov 14, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler Diabetes Educator Amy Wojciechowski explains how your genes and your lifestyle could cause diabetes

Have diabetes? You can’t put all the blame on mom and dad.

Yes, researchers know there is an inherited predisposition to diabetes. However, genes alone are not enough. Environmental factors play a major role.

“The two greatest contributors to the development of type 2 diabetes are lack of exercise and obesity,” says Amy Wojciechowski, BSN, RN, St. Joseph’s/Candler staff nurse and diabetes educator. “So there’s no guarantee if a family member has diabetes you will. It’s totally controllable.”

Related Article: Eight misconceptions about diabetes

Type 1 and genetics

The connection between genetics and type 1 diabetes is more so than type 2, especially if both parents have type 1, Wojciechowski says. However, genes are not the only factor. The proof is in twins, Wojciechowski says, because one twin may have the condition while the other doesn’t.

In fact, most people who are at risk of getting diabetes genetically do not get the disease. In those that do, it’s typically an environmental trigger that caused the disease. This could include cold weather or early diet.

“We know that more people up north, where it’s cold more often, have type 1 diabetes more often than people in warmer climates,” Wojciechowski says. “There’s also a link to breastfeeding. Research shows breastfeeding reduces the risk of the child developing diabetes as opposed to a baby drinking cow’s milk at an early age.”

Related Article: What are the benefits to breastfeeding?

Males with type 1 diabetes have a 1 in 25 chance of having a child also with the condition, according to the American Diabetes Association. If the child was born after the man turned 25, the risk is 1 in 100. However, those numbers double if the man developed diabetes before age 11. If both parents have type 1 diabetes, the risk is between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4, according to the ADA.

Type 2 and genetics

It’s proven that type 2 diabetes runs in families. Part of it is genetics, but it’s also learned behaviors within families, Wojciechowski says.

“If a family tends to eat heavy and improperly, then so will the children. They will learn that behavior and continue it throughout their whole life,” Wojciechowski says. “Whereas, if you have a family that has parents that recognize the risk of diabetes and take on a healthy lifestyle, then they are less apt to have children that will have type 2.”

Wojciechowski sees it often. She will counsel siblings that do not understand why one has diabetes and the other doesn’t. Once she starts asking about their lifestyle – what they eat and how much they exercise – the picture begins to become clear.

The good news is, regardless of your genes, it is possible to delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes by following a proper diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. And, if you are someone who already has diabetes and children, now is the time to teach them good habits.

“Get as much exercise as possible – at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week,” Wojciechowski says. “And eat a sensible diet – watch the refined sugars and eat whole grains, appropriate portions of proteins and carbs and eat a lot of vegetables. This all will contribute to reducing the risk of developing diabetes.”

Related Article: Ten superfoods people with diabetes should incorporate into their diet

Prediabetes and High Risk Management Program

If you still have concerns or more questions about diabetes, St. Joseph’s/Candler offers a comprehensive, year-long program for people with prediabetes or those at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Participants learn how to eat healthy, add physical activity to their routine, manage stress, stay motivated and solve problems that can get in the way of healthy changes.

The health benefits include:

  • CDC approved curriculum with lessons, handouts and other resources to help you make healthy changes.
  • A lifestyle coach, specially trained to lead the program, to help you learn new skills, encourage you to set and meet goals and keep you motivated. The coach will also facilitate discussions and help make the program fun and engaging.
  • A support group of people with similar goals and challenges. Together, you can share ideas, celebrate successes and work to overcome obstacles.
  • Candler Wellness Center membership throughout the program duration.
  • Biometrics and A1C at the beginning of the program, then once every six months.

A physicians’ referral is required. The program is 100 percent covered for St. Joseph’s/Candler co-workers and Chatham County employees. It’s also offered to the public for an out-of-pocket cost. Call 912-819-6146 for more pricing details.

Related Article: Five things to know about prediabetes