CHILDREN AND FATTY LIVER DISEASE
It is estimated that 6 million children 14 years of age and under have NAFLD
WHAT IS NAFLD?
NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) is the leading cause of chronic liver disease in children and is a condition where there is an excess of fat in the liver (over 5% of the liver’s weight). It can lead to more progressed forms called NASH (Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis) and cirrhosis.
First diagnosed in 1983, prevalence has increased threefold since the late 1980s. It is estimated that 10% of children have NAFLD and 38% of obese children. 8% of lean teens also have NAFLD, largely due to excess sugar consumption.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
While there are genetic and other medical reasons for the development of NAFLD, it is usually due to several lifestyle reasons:
• Increased use of high-fructose corn syrup, which affects the liver in the same fashion as alcohol
• Overall poor eating habits, including too much sugar, too much fast food and too much processed foods
• Only 25% of children meet the daily recommendation for fruits and vegetables
• Not enough exercise/too much screen time
WHO IS AT RISK?
Children with obesity, prediabetes, diabetes, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia or Hispanic ethnicity are most at risk.
Parents often need lifestyle advice to help their child, and themselves, avoid NAFLD and its potential consequences. Here are messages that can be conveyed:
• Lifestyle is a family issue, not a children’s issue.
• Eat whole foods, not processed foods
• Read nutrition labels to be sure you know what is going into your child’s body. There may be surprises
• Recommended daily sugar consumption is 6 teaspoons or 24 grams. It is not realistic to limit consumption to that level every day, but make sugary foods an occasional reward, not a diet staple
• Drink water, no energy drinks, fruit drinks or soda pop
• Eat more fruits and vegetables
• Minimize fast food
• Be sure to get enough fiber. The daily recommendation is 17-31 grams depending on the child’s age
• Eat a healthy breakfast – – no sugary cereals
• Eat healthy snacks – – fruits, vegetables and nuts
• Physical activity is important – – 60 minutes per day should be the goal