Maternal obesity increases the risk of fatty liver disease in children


Maternal obesity and overweight were linked to a higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in their children. Children and young adults with advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis were also more likely to have had obese or overweight mothers during pregnancy, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Hepatology.

Resulting from the accumulation of fat in the liver, NAFLD and its most severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), are responsible for an increasing proportion of advanced liver disease worldwide. Due to inflammation, NAFLD can lead to buildup of scar tissue (fibrosis), cirrhosis (advanced scarring), and even liver cancer. In the absence of effective and approved medical therapies, disease management depends on lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise.

Although maternal obesity leads to heart disease and diabetes in children, the link to NAFLD is unknown. Hannes Hagström, MD, PhD, of Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, and colleagues used data from the national ESPRESSO cohort to identify people up to 25 years of age with a biopsy-verified diagnosis of NAFLD between 1992 and 2016. These 165 people were matched by age, sex, and calendar year to up to five control subjects without NAFLD. The researchers also linked data on maternal body mass index (BMI) in early pregnancy as well as confounding factors from the Swedish National Medical Birth Registry.

The researchers found that maternal BMI was linked to fatty liver disease in their children. That is, women who were overweight or obese during pregnancy were more likely to have children who would develop NAFLD. Additionally, children and young adults were at greater risk of developing fibrosis or cirrhosis if their mothers were overweight or obese. Some 19% of people with NAFLD had obese mothers during pregnancy, compared to 8% of those without NAFLD. Additionally, maternal obesity appeared to be an independent risk factor, since adjusting for socioeconomic and metabolic factors did not change the association.

“In this national, population-based case-control study, we demonstrate an increased risk of biopsy-proven NAFLD in infants born to mothers with a high BMI during early pregnancy,” the researchers wrote. “Mothers with a high BMI should receive active counseling on how to reduce the risk of NAFLD in their offspring. “

Click here to read the study in the Journal of Hepatology.

Click here to learn more about fatty liver disease.


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