Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size
A
A
A

Overweight Kids Risk Liver Damage

By
WebMD Health News

June 26, 2000 -- Being fat when you're a kid can do more than harm your self-esteem. Childhood obesity has now been shown to lead to yet another disease in children: liver disease. Even more alarming is the finding that obese teens who drink even modest amounts of alcohol are at even higher risk for developing chronic liver problems, according to a recent study.

Obese teens are at increased risk for developing a condition known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, in which fat is built up in the liver and eventually causes scar tissue to form. This scar tissue increases the risk of developing a severe liver disease, called cirrhosis, in later life.

Obesity is one of the risk factors for this condition. Other risk factors include diabetes, inadequate protein in the diet, heart disease, and previous treatment with steroids.

Although more common in adults, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is being seen more frequently in children because of the growing number of children who are either overweight or obese.

In the study from a recent issue of TheJournal of Pediatrics, Richard S. Strauss, MD, and other researchers found that 8% of obese adolescents aged 12 to 18 reported modest alcohol intake of at least four drinks per month. Of these, half had an abnormal liver function test.

Children of normal weight who consumed the same amount of alcohol showed no such abnormalities in liver functioning. In addition, obese teens who drank regularly were 10 times more likely to have abnormalities than obese teens who drank less or not at all. Overall, 92% of these obese teens regularly drinking were boys.

The interaction between obesity and teen drinking "is particularly important because adolescent alcohol ingestion may lead to the rapid development of cirrhosis," write Strauss and colleagues.

Teen-agers, their parents, and pediatricians should be aware of this risk, talk openly about it, and work to overcome problems with obesity and teen drinking, says Ronald J. Sokol, MD, in an editorial that accompanied the study.

Sokol stresses the importance of managing obesity in children, stressing that it not only causes problems in childhood but may also foreshadow health problems as adults.

"As a result of this epidemic of childhood obesity, a multitude of chronic illnesses and risk factors for adult disease are now starting in childhood rather than in adulthood," he writes, adding that childhood obesity is associated not only with liver problems, but with gall bladder disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and orthopaedic problems.

A co-author of the study, Sarah E. Barlow, MD, tells WebMD that weight loss in adolescents is key. "Changes in liver function are probably common in overweight kids. It's important for parents to know that even if liver enzyme levels are modestly elevated in their overweight kids, it is most likely related to the children being overweight. If the children will lose weight and repeat the liver function tests, they will usually normalize." Barlow is assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, in Missouri.

"Our changing lifestyle, high-fat and fast foods, and developing computer-based technology with increased reliance on the Internet will most likely keep this childhood epidemic [obesity] around for a long time," Sokol writes, "despite current efforts toward improving nutritional health and raising the activity level of our youth."

Today on WebMD

family walking on the beach
Slideshow
two boys in a swing
Article
 
mistakes_parents_make_with_toddlers_2.jpg
Article
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow