When you think of liver disease, what comes to mind? You may think of heavy alcohol consumption resulting in cirrhosis. Or, adults who have struggled with junk food consumption their entire lives. At present, one particularly lethal condition is on the rise: childhood fatty liver disease.
In the UK, one in five of our children is showing the signs of childhood fatty liver disease. The number receiving a diagnosis has doubled in five years. We’re not alone in facing this problem, either. In the United States, children as young as two reach their pediatricians with the condition in place.
Although it’s possible to brush some conditions off as being a natural part of childhood, this isn’t one of them. Without affirmative action, childhood fatty liver disease has shocking consequences.
What is fatty liver disease?
Otherwise known as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), this condition involves fat building up in the liver. It is possible to have a small amount of fat in the liver without experiencing long-term damage. However, when it accumulates in large amounts and remains there, it can result in irreversible changes.
It is possible to have childhood fatty liver disease without being overweight. However, this is the exception rather than the norm. The rise in cases in recent years reflects a growing tendency toward obesity in younger people. As the condition continues, it results in liver scarring. Livers are responsible for metabolizing drugs, maintaining blood thickness, and lots of other functions. As such, it’s an organ we all need to protect.
What are the consequences of childhood fatty liver disease?
Childhood fatty liver disease sounds quite innocuous in comparison to other liver conditions. However, you shouldn’t let the name lull you into a false sense of security.
Much like alcoholic liver disease, this condition escalates to the point where scarring occurs. If this liver scarring becomes severe, tiredness, muscle aches, easy bruising, and heavy periods become common features. In the later stages of the condition (which usually occur during adulthood) liver failure becomes the worst outcome.
Are there ways of preventing and treating this condition?
Although childhood fatty liver disease isn’t exclusive to obese kids, there is a very close link. Therefore, if your pediatrician advises that your child weighs too much, work with them to address the issue. Alongside eating a healthy diet, exercise improves insulin resistance and can reverse the damage your child encounters due to the disease.
As many parents will know, encouraging your children to eat healthy foods and exercise isn’t always easy. The best thing you can do for your child is keep experimenting until you find something they enjoy. Few kids will relish going for a run, but they’ll love outdoor activities such as playing chase. Many also prefer to swim, or they love the excitement that comes with group sports.
While childhood fatty liver disease isn’t a problem for all children, continuing to eat an unhealthy diet and abandon exercise could put everyone at risk.