Parenting comes with its challenges, and health concerns are at the top of the list. As we lovingly watch our children grow, learn and explore the world, we’re on constant alert for potential risks. Among the many things we keep an eye out for, their wellbeing takes precedence. You’ve likely been troubleshooting rashes, allergies and cold symptoms since day one, but sometimes there are invisible threats that you don’t think about—like type 1 diabetes (T1D). And that’s one health concern you don’t want to overlook. In this article, we’ll break down what T1D is, how to identify the risk factors and what you should do if you think your child might be at risk.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels, allowing our bodies to convert sugar into energy. When these cells are damaged, the body cannot produce enough insulin, leading to high levels of sugar in the blood. It’s also a rapidly growing condition, with one study showing significantly more children being diagnosed with T1D since the start of the Covid pandemic.1

So now that you know what type 1 diabetes is, let’s get into the risk factors.

Genetics: The family connection

If you haven’t already and you’re able to, it’s time to dig into your child’s family tree to learn about any and all health conditions that might be lingering deep in their genome. While genetics don’t guarantee that your child will develop the condition, they can play a role in predisposing them to it. 

One of the most significant factors for type 1 diabetes is a family history. In fact, if there is a genetic link to T1D, your child is at a 15-times greater risk of developing the condition.2 If a close family member such as a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with T1D, you’ll want to brush up on the signs and symptoms (link to article #2) and talk to your child’s healthcare provider to determine if screening is recommended. 

Age, race and geography

Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age anywhere in the world, though there are some interesting trends that could put some children at a slightly higher risk. Many times, the condition emerges in childhood and adolescence and is diagnosed only once physical symptoms present themselves. Also, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US, white people are more likely to develop T1D than Black and Hispanic or Latino people

Furthermore, research suggests an increased risk of developing T1D for people who live in northern climates, perhaps because they are indoors more (especially in the winter).3 This means that they’re in close proximity to each other—potentially leading to more viral infections. Which is—you guessed it—another risk factor. 

Remember: age, race and geography are risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing the condition, but they don’t automatically mean disease onset. It’s  helpful to keep these in mind in case there are other genetic or environmental factors also present.

Viral triggers

If you’re the parent of a school-aged child, you’re (unfortunately) probably well-versed in navigating pesky viruses (we’re talking about you, stomach flu). What’s interesting though, is that certain viral infections have a potential connection to triggering the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Certain strains of coxsackievirus (a type of enterovirus),4 along with measles, mumps and rubella (MMR),5 have been linked to an increase in the risk of type 1 diabetes in children. Covid may also play a role. While the research is still new, recent studies  suggest that since the start of the pandemic, the number of clinically diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes in kids and teens has increased significantly.6 All of this is to say that if your child comes down with a viral infection, keep your mama bear instincts on high alert for T1D symptoms (link to article #2) to present themselves.

Autoimmune connections

Our bodies are incredibly intelligent, but immune systems are complex. And here’s the thing: when one autoimmune disorder decides to crash the party, it’s like holding the door open for others to sneak in. If your child has been previously diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, pernicious anemia, or thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s, it’s essential to stay vigilant. A chat with their healthcare provider about the potential risk of type 1 diabetes in a smart move.

Other possible risk factors

While the most potent risk factors for type 1 diabetes are genetics, viral triggers and existing autoimmune conditions, along with age, race and geography considerations), there are other possible risk factors that shouldn’t be overlooked. Some of them include:

  • Gut microbial factors, in particular the microbiota α-diversity, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes levels and their ratio, as well as the Bifidobacterium level7
  • Occurrence of stress due to traumatic or emotional experience7
  • Preeclampsia of the mother during the child’s pregnancy8
  • Preterm birth (with those born between 33 and 36 weeks at the highest risk)8
  • Complicated delivery8
  • High birth weight for gestational age8

What to do if your child is at risk

This one’s easy: Talk to your child’s healthcare provider and get your child screened. If you’re concerned that your child might be at risk of developing type 1 diabetes, early screening (which can detect the risk of developing T1D before symptoms even appear) is a smart move. There are several ways to get screened for early-stage T1D including at a doctor’s office, at certain labs, or even with an at-home test kit. No matter how you choose to screen, early detection can make a difference in managing the progression of the condition.

You are your child’s biggest advocate, and the more you know, the more empowered you are to make educated decisions about your child’s health journey. While type 1 diabetes might bring new challenges, it is not a roadblock to a fulfilling life, and there are incredible resources and communities available to offer support. By understanding the risk factors of type 1 diabetes, you’re paving the way for a healthier and happier journey ahead.


1 Gottesman BL, et al. “Incidence of new-onset type 1 diabetes among US children during the COVID-19 global pandemic” JAMA Pediatr 2022; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.5801

2 “Risks for Type 1 Diabetes.” Type 1 Tested. https://www.type1tested.com/risks-for-type-1-diabetes.

3 Chen Y, et al. “Climates on incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes mellitus in 72 countries.” Scientific reports vol. 7,1 12810. 9 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12954-8

4 Richardson SJ, Morgan NG. Enteroviral infections in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes: new insights for therapeutic intervention. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2018;43:11-19. doi:10.1016/j.coph.2018.07.006

5 Ramondetti F, Sacco S, Comelli M, et al. Type 1 diabetes and measles, mumps and rubella childhood infections within the Italian Insulin-dependent Diabetes Registry. Diabet Med. 2012;29(6):761-766. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.2011.03529.x

6 D’Souza D, Empringham J, Pechlivanoglou P, Uleryk EM, Cohen E, Shulman R. Incidence of Diabetes in Children and Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(6):e2321281. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.21281

7 Traversi D, Rabbone I, Scaioli G, et al. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes, including environmental, behavioural and gut microbial factors: a case–control study. Sci Rep 10, 17566 (2020). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-74678-6

8 Rewers M, Stene LC, Norris JM. Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes. In: Cowie CC, Casagrande SS, Menke A, et al., editors. Diabetes in America. 3rd edition. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (US); 2018 Aug. CHAPTER 11. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK567965/