Obesity impacts liver health in children as young as 8 years old

A new study published today in the Journal of Pediatrics is the first to show that weight gain can negatively impact liver health in children as young as 8 years old. The study found that a larger waist circumference at age 3 increases the likelihood that children at age 8 will have markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“With the rise in childhood obesity, we are seeing more and more children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in our pediatric weight management practice,” said Jennifer Woo Baidal, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics. at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead author of the paper. “Many parents know that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, but much less is known that obesity, even in young children, can lead to serious liver disease.”

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver and triggers inflammation, causing liver damage. The disease affects approximately 80 million people in the United States and is the most common chronic liver disease in children and adolescents. Although the disease is usually asymptomatic, progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and, in some cases, liver cancer.

Previous studies have looked at fatty liver disease in adolescents and young adults. In the current study, Woo Baidal and his colleagues looked for risk factors for fatty liver disease in young children.

Researchers measured blood levels of a liver enzyme called ALT – high ALT is a marker of liver damage and can occur in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other conditions that affect the liver – in 635 children from Project Viva, an ongoing prospective study of women and children in Massachusetts.

By age 8, 23% of children in the study had elevated ALT levels. Children with larger waist circumferences (a measure of abdominal obesity) at age 3 and those with greater gains in measures of obesity between ages 3 and 8 were more likely to have a high ALT. About 35% of obese 8-year-olds had elevated ALT levels, compared to 20% of those with normal weight.

“Some clinicians measure ALT levels in at-risk children starting around age 10, but our results underscore the importance of taking action earlier in a child’s life to prevent excessive weight gain and weight loss. resulting inflammation of the liver,” says Woo Baidal, also director. pediatric weight management and pediatric gastroenterologist at the Center for Adolescent Bariatric Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “Currently, the best way for children and adults to fight fatty liver disease is to lose weight, eat fewer processed foods and exercise regularly. We urgently need better ways to screen , diagnose, prevent and treat this disease from childhood.”

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Material provided by Columbia University Medical Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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