Obese children at risk of liver disease

Over-weight and obese children are at higher risk of liver disease in later life, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine found that obese children have higher risk for non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), hypertension and heart problems.

NAFLD, which is considered to be emerging health problems related to the childhood obesity epidemic, is the inappropriate storage of droplets of fat inside liver cells. It affects nearly 10% of all children in the US.

It is one of the most common forms of liver disease in the UK as well, with an estimated 25-30% people having early forms of NAFLD.

NAFLD is most common among overweight children and teenagers, and it can develop in conjunction with diabetes and other health problems.

The study 

The National Institutes of Health Non alcoholic Steatohepatitis Clinical Research Network recruited 484 children aged 2-17 years old who had NAFLD.

The participants had their blood pressure taken at the start of the study and again at 48 weeks. 

At the start of the study, nearly 36% of the group had high blood pressure. At 48 weeks, around 21% of the group had persistent high blood pressure. High blood pressure was present in 2-5% of all children and 10% of obese children. 

The study also reports that girls are significantly more likely to have persistent high blood pressure compared with boys. 

Lead author Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer said that, along with being at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, the children with NAFLD who had high blood pressure were significantly more likely to have more fat in their liver than children without high blood pressure.  This could lead to a more serious form of liver disease.


Dr. Schwimmer recommended that blood pressure evaluation, control and monitoring should be an integral component of the clinical management of children with NAFLD. 

Children with NAFLD are at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes. Also, high blood pressure is a main cause of preventable death and disability and its origin often occurs in childhood.

Although there are no currently approved treatments for children with NAFLD, there are treatments for high blood pressure. 

Dr. Schwimmer argues that blood pressure control may be useful for decreasing the risk of premature cardiovascular disease in children.

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