It’s common knowledge that obesity causes massive damages on the health of people as they get older but an American study has recently shown that the impact of overweight and in particular an excessive waist circumference on the liver health of children happens much earlier than previously thought.
Meeting at a congress in Paris a year ago, hepatologists around the world have already sounded the alarm: overweight and obesity not only increase the risk of liver disease in adults but also in children. Thus, this study conducted by a team of researchers at Columbia University only confirms the fear of doctors. According to the results, the risk of fatty liver disease appears in children as early as the age of 8.
Hepatic steatosis — popularly known as fatty liver disease — results from the excessive accumulation of lipids inside the liver cells, which triggers inflammation and liver disease. As the disease develops silently, it can then degenerate into cirrhosis, or even liver cancer.
For this study, the researchers measured the level of a liver enzyme (called ALT) that is a marker of liver damage in the blood of 635 Massachusetts children. The results show that 23% of 8-year-olds (almost one in four) have high levels of ALT. The researchers found that children who have a high waist circumference at the age of 3 and those with higher weight gains between the ages of 3 and 8 are most likely to have elevated liver enzyme levels.
“Many parents know that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, but there is less awareness that obesity can also lead to liver disease, including in young children,” says Dr. Jennifer Woo Baidal, pediatrician and lead author of the study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 12.7 million children and adolescents in the United States are affected by obesity, according to the latest available data. 8.9% of children between the age age 2 and 5 are obese compared to 17.5% for 6- to 11-year-olds.