Risk and protective factors

Some behaviour and health factors can protect against developing diabetes (protective factors), while others can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition (risk factors) [45543].

Changes in lifestyle such as losing weight, increasing physical activity and eating healthy foods are all protective factors and reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes [45543]. There is also evidence that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of maternal type 2 diabetes later in life [44621].

The risk factors for diabetes can be divided into two main categories: modifiable (can be changed) and non-modifiable (cannot be changed) [45543]. Non-modifiable factors include a person’s family history and age. Modifiable factors that increase the risk of developing diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, include:

  • high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol
  • tobacco smoking
  • low levels of physical activity
  • poor diet
  • being overweight or obese [45543][44185].

Having more than one risk factor increases the risk of developing diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is not linked to modifiable factors.

Another modifiable risk factor is pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition when sugar (glucose) levels in the blood are high, but not high enough to be diabetes [34460]. Pre-diabetes has no symptoms. The prevention and management of pre-diabetes involve maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being physically active. It is also important that people with pre-diabetes control their blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglycerides.


Key resources



Janganpa Jukurrpa (Brush-tailed Possum Dreaming) by Phyllis Napurrurla Williams

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