Parents take note. If your child is obese or overweight, it may have a negative impact on his or her liver, a new study suggests.
The study found that bigger waist circumference at the age of three raises the likelihood that by the time the child is eight years old, he or she will have markers for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver and triggers inflammation, causing liver damage.
“With the rise in childhood obesity, we are seeing more kids with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in our paediatric weight management practice,” said lead author Jennifer Woo Baidal, Assistant Professor at Columbia University.
“Many parents know that obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic conditions, but there is far less awareness that obesity, even in young children, can lead to serious liver disease,” Baidal added.
For the study, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, the researchers looked for fatty liver risk factors in younger children.
The researchers measured blood levels of a liver enzyme called ALT — elevated ALT is a marker for liver damage and can occur in individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other conditions that affect the liver — in 635 children.
The researchers found that by the age eight, 23 per cent of children in the study had elevated ALT levels.
Children with a bigger waist circumference (a measure of abdominal obesity) at age three and those with greater gains in obesity measures between ages three and eight were more likely to have elevated ALT.
Approximately 35 per cent of eight-year-olds with obesity had elevated ALT versus 20 per cent of those with normal weight, the researcher said.
“Some clinicians measure ALT levels in at-risk children starting at around 10 years old, but our findings underscore the importance of acting earlier in a child’s life to prevent excess weight gain and subsequent liver inflammation,” Baidal said.