Doctor discusses a woman's risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all races, ethnicities, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Although its exact causes are unknown, researchers have uncovered type 1 diabetes risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.

Family History

Having a family history of type 1 diabetes is the highest risk factor for developing the disease—a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with T1D increases your risk up to 15-fold. However, nearly 85% of diagnoses occur in people who have no family members with the disease.

JDRF-funded researchers have tracked data from nearly 8,000 high-risk children to estimate future risk for T1D more precisely. Learn more about how we’re better predicting the onset of T1D.

Screening for T1D

Thanks to advances in research and a better understanding of the human immune system, we are now able to identify a person’s risk for T1D many years before the onset of symptoms through a simple blood test. Screening can reduce the risk of complications at diagnosis and also help researchers better identify who is at risk. This leads to the development of therapies (like the recently FDA-approved Tzield) that can slow down the progression of T1D. Learn more about screening for T1D.


A person’s age is a type 1 diabetes risk factor. While people can experience the onset of T1D at any age, many are diagnosed in early elementary school or as preteens, with ages 10-14 having the highest occurrence of diagnoses.

Environmental Triggers

Research has not found a definite environmental trigger for type 1 diabetes. Viruses and exposure to gluten, cow’s milk, antibiotics, and more have all been extensively studied. “The evidence has not been conclusive,” says Laura Jacobsen, assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida. “It may be because there are multiple or different triggers for different subsets of the population.”

Breakthrough T1D will continue funding research to determine if and how a person’s environment is a type 1 diabetes risk factor.

Ethnic and Geographic Triggers

The risk for type 1 diabetes has historically been highest in those with white European ancestry. However, the diversity of the population with T1D is increasing, meaning the risk is going up in minority populations. Research is ongoing in this area to address this increasingly global problem. Visit the T1D Index for a detailed look at instances of type 1 diabetes around the world.

Geographically, there are countries where the risk of T1D is higher than others, but “ultimately it is underlying genetics that impact risk,” Jacobsen said. 

Researchers are still trying to understand how and why genes and environment are type 1 diabetes risk factors. Breakthrough T1D continues to fund this research so that we will one day learn how to prevent, reverse, and cure T1D.


Living with the burden of T1D can be overwhelming at times, but you’re never alone. The Breakthrough T1D community has your back.
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