In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, if a child has a larger than average waist circumference by age three, there is a higher chance that they will be obese and will have markers for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease by the time they are 8 years old. According to Jennifer Woo Baidal, the lead author of the study, most parents know that obesity in children can lead to type 2 diabetes, but over 95% do not know that it could lead to liver disease.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
This disease arises when too much fat accumulates in the liver causing inflammation and eventual liver damage. This disease affects an average of 80 million people in the US alone. Pediatric physicians point out that it is one of the most common chronic liver conditions in adolescents and children. The disease does not exhibit notable symptoms, but its progression can lead to liver cirrhosis while some certain cases have led to cancer of the liver.
Studies on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease of previous years focused on young adults and adolescents. Jennifer Woo Baidal and her colleagues measured the blood levels of ALT, a liver enzyme that is also a marker for liver damage. The study had 635 children from Project Viva, which is an ongoing study of women and children in Massachusetts. The study revealed that 23% of participants in the study had elevated levels of ALT by the age of 8. In the study an average of 35% of 8-year-old obese children had elevated ALT compared to 20% of the children with normal weight.
High ALT levels go unnoticed since most pediatric physicians measure it in children ten years or older. Jennifer Woo notes that the only solution is to eat fewer processed foods, have regular exercise, and to lose weight. She adds that there is a need to find better ways to screen high levels of ALT, diagnose, prevent, as well as treat the disease in the early stages.