Children are being diagnosed with fatty liver disease, a result of too much junk food and too little exercise. Often, there are no symptoms. In advanced stages, damage is similar to that caused by excessive alcohol.
A survey of high school students in Delhi has found that over a fifth have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) because they’re eating too much junk food and getting too little exercise. NAFLD is the inflammation of the liver because of excessive fat deposits. It can lead to scarring of the liver, cirrhosis and liver failure. The damage it does is similar to that caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
In the early stages, corrective lifestyle changes can reverse the damage. But since the only symptom is abdominal pain, the percentage of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease cases that progress to cirrhosis is almost the same as the percentage in cases caused by alcohol in adults.
The study of Delhi students was conducted recently. Of the 961 children aged 5 to 10 surveyed, from across 13 private schools, over 22% of the children in the normal weight range had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Of the overweight children, 45.6% had NAFLD.
The numbers for obese children are even higher. In a survey of 218 children aged 10 to 16 with a high body-mass index, 62.5 tested positive for NAFLD.
Meanwhile, the number of Indian children fighting obesity is rising steadily — up from 16.3% between 2001 and 2005 to 19.3% in 2010, according to a 2016 analysis of 52 studies conducted in 16 Indian states and published in The Indian Journal of Medical Research.
In non-obese children, a warning sign to watch out for is excessive central fat in the waist and abdominal region.
High waist circumference and waist-to hip ratio are markers for children at risk.
A handy tip: waist circumference should ideally be less than half of a person’s height.
Unexplained fatigue can be a symptom.
NAFLD is a lifestyle disease, so the best way to control and even reverse it is to fix what’s wrong with the child’s lifestyle. Avoid sugary beverages, including juices and glucose drinks. Enforce a diet where most meals are balanced, home-cooked fare.
The fact that it is a lifestyle disease also makes it hard to treat. There is no pill to pop for NAFLD. Usually no obvious signs to show, that it’s getting worse.
To treat a child with the condition as it requires dietary restrictions and a lifestyle change and that has to start at home. The empty calories have to be cut. Candy, chocolate, meat and fries removed from the diet.
The correct method is to encourage healthy eating and physical activity from early childhood.