The American Liver Foundation is estimating that 2-5% of American children over the age of 5 have a condition called fatty liver disease. Nearly all of them are obese or overweight. This condition has been reported in recent medical studies in children from the United States, Europe, Australia and even some developing countries
This is a big concern because this can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure or liver cancer. This was not a condition that pediatricians expect to see in their patients and so it is not routinely tested for. There is a simple blood test that pediatricians could do to check for signs of it although the only definitive test is a liver biopsy.
What exactly happens? Well, when too much fat builds up, it causes the liver to inflame. Over time, with continued inflammation the liver begins to scar up and that is what can lead to cirrhosis, a very serious, serious liver disease. I took care of many patients with this disease and know first hand how deadly it can be.
Research is showing that if children who have this fatty liver condition can stop the progression or even turn it around by losing significant weight. But we know losing weight and changing habits are not easy. The good news is increasing activity and eating a balanced low fat diet for a growing child can really expedite weight loss. Kids are growing and that really works in their favor.
But if you child is overweight for several years, it is a good question to ask your pediatrician. An annual visit should include a BMI to age percentile and it should include a good discussion about diet and healthy habits. For at risk children, it should include a discussion of screening and prevention for heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease.