Childhood obesity linked to liver disease

More than half a million children could be at risk of liver disease due to obesity, is the warning from government expert Professor Martin Lombard, the Department of Health’s national clinical director. Government estimates indicate that around 500,000 of children below the age of 15 are suffering from “non alcoholic liver disease”. This is a condition where fat builds up in the liver cells causing inflammation and swelling and in some cases, it can lead to potentially fatal cirrhosis of the liver.

Excessive alcohol intake is commonly associated with the disease but Sarah Matthews, from the British Liver Trust, believes that, “Even though alcohol is regarded as the key cause of liver disease in the UK, weight-related liver damage is set to become a huge public health problem where, if the projections hold true, obesity could overtake alcohol as the biggest single driver of cirrhosis in the future.”

Recent Government figures highlight that 30% of children between the ages of 2 and 15 years old are classified as overweight or clinically obese. This figure is expected to double by 2050.

Professor Lombard believes there is a danger of the next generation dying young and states, “We know that with childhood obesity on the rise we can expect more children to be at risk of fatty liver disease in the near future.”

The Chief Medical Officer of England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, says that children and their parents need to be aware of the health risks of obesity with fat being stored around vital internal organs and not just on the body surface. However, she says that young people who are overweight and obese can combat fatty liver disease by making simple changes to their lifestyle.

She adds: “There is good evidence that gradual weight loss through healthy eating and regular exercise can reduce ill health, such as diabetes and the amount of fat in a liver.”

There is no treatment for the disease but the condition is reversible through weight loss and improvements in diet. Weight loss for adults however can be helped by medication, such as Xenical and Alli which act as fat absorbers blocking out a third of fat in food eaten in a patient’s diet, leading to steady weight loss. However, it should be stressed that a person must be prepared to adopt a healthier diet and exercise in conjunction with the medication for it to be truly effective and sustainable.

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