Risk of Type 2 Diabetes by Age

Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in middle-aged adults roughly between the ages 45 and 64. As with many medical conditions, the risk of developing diabetes increases with age. However, children and teens have increasingly been diagnosed with diabetes.

This article explains why people are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes as they age and factors that put other age groups at risk. You will also learn what to do at any age to prevent diabetes.

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Onset of Diabetes by Age

Diabetes can occur at any age, but the risk for type 2 diabetes becomes greater in adults over 35. Your specific risk, however, depends on several factors, including:

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children and teens, as this form of diabetes is less dependent on lifestyle choices and more dependent on genetics and your autoimmune profile.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults since it usually develops over time due to increased insulin resistance (the body's inability to respond properly to insulin) or uncontrolled blood glucose levels (inconsistent high or low blood sugar levels out of the normal, healthy range). However, some studies have documented a rise in type 2 diabetes diagnoses, even among children and teens.

It's important to note that diagnosis can also be tricky in people whose symptoms are atypical in presentation. For instance, someone may be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life, but may actually have type 1 diabetes.

Children and Teens

For children and teens, the risk of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes exceeds that of type 2 diabetes; however, new cases of type 2 diabetes in children and teens are on the rise.

Prevalence

About 283,000 children and teens in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of diabetes. More than 18,000 of those affected were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and just under 6,000 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

A Growing Risk

The prevalence of newly diagnosed diabetes is rising in children and teens. From 2002 to 2015, new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes increased by 1.9% each year in this age group. In comparison, type 2 diabetes in children and teens increased by 4.8% each year during the same period.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for diabetes in children and teens depend on whether you consider type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes in children and teens include:

  • Family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Certain infections
  • Other autoimmune diseases
  • Maternal health and diet
  • Early childhood nutrition

The risk of type 2 diabetes in children in teens is more lifestyle- and diet-driven. Risk factors include:

  • Having excess weight or obesity
  • Being born to a mother who had gestational diabetes
  • Having other factors that add to insulin resistance

Outlook

Individualized treatment strategies are key to a healthy outlook in children and teens with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This can include medications and/or lifestyle and diet changes.

While type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured, type 2 diabetes can potentially reverse in children and teens with the proper care.

Young Adults

Adults age 18 to 44 have some of the lowest rates of new diabetes diagnoses. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, and this age group isn't as likely to have experienced the effects of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices that can affect the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Prevalence

Adults age 18 to 44 have among the lowest rates of diabetes diagnosis at 3.2%. While type 1 diabetes can still be diagnosed in this age group, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is more common at this time.

Risk Factors

Young adulthood presents unique challenges and risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. This is usually when many young adults move out of their parents' home, living—and eating—on their own for the first time. New jobs and other changes can make exercising more challenging. Establishing a good diet and consistent exercise regimen early in life is key to maintaining good health into adulthood.

Outlook

People diagnosed with diabetes in their 20s and 30s may have an easier time adhering to medication regimens, but lifestyle changes can be challenging. With the proper diet and healthy lifestyle changes, reversing a type 2 diabetes diagnosis at any age is possible.

Middle-Aged Adults

The risk of new-onset type 2 diabetes increases between age 35 and 45. Decades of eating and activity habits can significantly impact your body's ability to process foods and regulate blood glucose levels.

Prevalence

A new type 2 diabetes diagnosis is most common between the ages of 45 and 64, although risks increase around age 35. During this period, roughly 10% of adults are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

While a type 1 diabetes diagnosis is possible, it's not as common in older adults. According to one report, 42% of people aged 31 to 60 were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes compared to 58% of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of developing diabetes during middle age. These include:

Outlook

It can be more challenging to change diet and lifestyle later in life, but it's possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your blood sugar levels and prevent serious complications of diabetes. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and overall health.

Older Adults

While obesity and poor diet or lifestyle choices drive new diabetes diagnoses in the earlier parts of your life, older adults are more at risk of issues with insulin resistance and production later in life.

Prevalence

About 5.8% of adults aged 65 and older are newly diagnosed with diabetes. Most of these cases are type 2 diabetes, resulting from the body not making or using insulin well enough. A type 1 diabetes diagnosis over age 65 isn't impossible, but it is unlikely.

Risk Factors

As with middle-aged adults, older adults are at risk of experiencing the effects of a lifetime of diet and exercise choices. Other risk factors include:

  • Vitamin D deficiency or low magnesium
  • Obesity and/or limited mobility
  • Cognitive issues
  • Other autoimmune diseases
  • Certain medications
  • A history of gestational diabetes

Outlook

For adults over 65 with a new type 2 diabetes diagnosis, oral and injected medications are recommended due to potential limitations in exercise or activity levels. A person's ability to be independent also affects their overall outlook with diabetes.

Adults with type 1 diabetes often have a shorter life expectancy and may be in the later stages of the disease, with numerous complications in their later years.

Older adults with either type of diabetes must be careful about diet and lifestyle choices and take particular care to avoid episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Prevention

Preventing diabetes is something you can start at any age; you are never too young or old to make healthy diet and lifestyle changes.

While you cannot prevent type 1 diabetes, you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by taking the following steps:

  • Lose weight.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Get control of your blood pressure.
  • Exercise.
  • Control your blood sugar.

Summary

Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence since it's passed down through families. Type 2 diabetes, however, is mainly caused by diet and lifestyle choices, increasing the risk of developing this condition with age. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors for developing diabetes and what you can do to prevent it.

A Word From Verywell 

There's not much you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes, but you can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life by taking steps to stay active and eat healthily. If you have certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to prevent full-blown diabetes or serious diabetic complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get type 2 diabetes in your teens?

    Yes, type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. However, type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in childhood and adolescence.

  • Does prediabetes always precede diabetes?

    No. While prediabetes can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes, it is not always caught or diagnosed prior to a diabetes diagnosis.

  • Does your risk of diabetes increase with age?

    Yes. Middle-aged and older adults are most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes as their bodies become less effective at producing and using insulin.

18 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.