Until now little was known about the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children. To gauge its occurrence a University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine-led team studied 742 autopsy reports and tissue analysis of San Diego County children aged two to 19 who died from traumatic accidents, homicide or suicide and had a medical examiner autopsy between 1993 and 2003.
The study, published in the October issue of Pediatrics, found that fatty liver was present in 13% of the children and adolescents whose records were studied. Utilizing rigorous standardization methods that narrowed the study population to represent children in the community, and adjusted for age, gender, race and ethnicity, the team estimated that NAFLD is present in 9.6% of the children and adolescents living in San Diego County. The team determined it was the most common cause of liver disease in the children and adolescents they studied.
NAFLD is defined by an accumulation of fat in the liver cells. The conclusions are significant because the disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, end-stage liver disease requiring a liver transplant, and liver cancer. The team found that in 23% of those children with fatty liver, the liver injury was severe enough to produce steatohepatitis, an inflammation caused by fat buildup in the liver. Over time steatohepatitis can cause progressive liver damage and has important implications for the long term health of children and young adults.
"Fatty liver disease is a very common problem that has gone largely unnoticed," said Jeffrey Schwimmer, UCSD Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Fatty Liver and Weight and Wellness Clinics at Rady Children's Hospital, who led the study. "If the prevalence in the United States is similar to the prevalence in San Diego, this would translate to 6.5 million children. The scale of the problem has enormous ramifications for the future health o
Contact: Jeffree Itrich
University of California - San Diego