We Need to Avoid Sugar To Slow the Rise of Pediatric Fatty Liver Diseases

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Obesity is a big problem in the United States and a surprisingly growing problem across the world.  Poor nutrition and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are the major contributors, even among children and that is a major concern for health officials.  As such, doctors advise that overweight children can develop fatty liver disease just like adults, but this condition can be quickly rectified by cutting the amount of sugar in their diet. 

According to new research from a team at Emory University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine (UCSD), somewhere between 80 and 100 million Americans have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is a condition characterized by liver swelling because of dangerous levels of fat.  Out of this problem population, as many as ten percent may be adolescents or teenagers. 

What is most remarkable about this data, however, is that NAFLD is the most common form of liver disease in children and has significantly increased between 1988 and 2010.  It is important to track this condition, then, because it is associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes as well as liver cancer and end-stage liver disease, as well as cardiovascular disease.  Because the condition has very few symptoms, it can even progress to more serious problems like nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis.

The current guidelines call for children with NAFLD to get more exercise and eat more healthy foods but the new guidelines want to add a specific restriction for sugars.

Senior author of the study Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, comments, “Although pediatric guidelines for managing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease recommend a healthy diet, focused reduction of sugary foods and beverages was an unproven treatment.”

The results of this study have been published in JAMA.

The Emory professor of pediatrics and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta director of the Pediatric Fatty Liver Program goes on to say, “Our results show that if a child with NAFLD consumes a very low amount of sugars in their diet, both fat and inflammation in the liver improves. We are excited by the highly significant results but also realize that a longer study will be needed in order to understand if sugar reduction is sufficient to ‘cure’ NAFLD.”

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