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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A concern in obese children?

Copyright: decade3d / 123RF Stock Photo Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease concept.
Image credit: decade3d / 123RF Stock Photo

A survey in rural areas of the state of Punjab suggests non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a concern among obese children.

The news comes following a survey by the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), which identified a high prevalence of the condition among those aged five to eighteen years with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 27 kg/m2. PGIMER conducted the survey between September 2018 and October 2019, involving children and adolescents admitted to the paediatric outpatient department of one of its satellite centres in Sangrur. 

The survey ascertained the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease among those assessed to be 62 percent. 46 percent registered a mild condition. Sixteen percent registered a moderate condition. 

Healthline explains that 

“Drinking too much alcohol can cause a buildup of fat in your liver. It can lead to scarring of liver tissue, known as cirrhosis. Liver function decreases depending on how much scarring occurs. Fatty tissue can also build up in your liver if you drink little or no alcohol. This is known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It can also cause cirrhosis…NAFLD and alcoholic liver disease (ALD) fall under the umbrella term of fatty liver disease. The condition is defined as hepatic steatosis when five to ten percent of a liver’s weight is fat.”

The Healthline report identifies symptoms of fatty liver disease including “pain in the upper right side of the abdomen; fatigue; enlarged liver or spleen (usually observed by a doctor during an exam); ascites, or swelling in the belly; jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.” However, it emphasises that “in many cases of NAFLD, there are no noticeable symptoms. ”

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can have serious consequences. The British National Health Service notes “early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse. Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. 

“If you already have diabetes, NAFLD increases your chance of developing heart problems. If detected and managed at an early stage, it’s possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the amount of fat in your liver.” The PGIMER survey found a family history of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension among those surveyed to be prevalent to the tune of 42 percent, 34 percent, and 38 percent respectively. Additionally, twenty percent of those surveyed displayed hypertension and twelve percent displayed hypoglycemia. 

Should childhood obesity be a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there are concerns for India. The country’s childhood obesity issue is only growing in scope, with the country – as Health Issues India previously reported – positioned to “be a chief driver of the explosion of childhood obesity by 2030, when 250 million children worldwide will be obese. In India, more than 27 million children will be obese by that year. This is compared to eleven million obese children at present. As such, by 2030, India will surpass the United States as the country with the second highest number of obese children.”

The PGIMER study notes that “early detection using various simple screening tools can go a long way in the prevention of chronic liver disease and associated comorbidities in the obese children.” The country must take this onboard.

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