News ID: 241288
Published: 0621 GMT April 12, 2019

Experts warn of fatty liver disease 'epidemic' in young people

Experts warn of fatty liver disease 'epidemic' in young people

Experts are warning that high levels of fatty liver disease among young people, caused by being overweight, could signal a potential public health crisis.

Fatty liver disease is fairly common among older adults, detectable in about a quarter of the population. But a study has found that substantial numbers of 24-year-olds are also affected, putting them at risk of serious later health problems, such as liver cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart attacks, according to The Guardian.

Researchers from Bristol University tested more than 4,000 young people enrolled in a longitudinal study called the Children of the 90s, set up to follow the lives and health of children born in 1991 and 1992 in Avon, England.

All of them had been given an ultrasound at the age of 18, which revealed that 2.5 percent had fatty liver disease. Five years later, a newer kind of scan called transient elastography or fibroscan detected that over 20 percent had fatty deposits on the liver, or steatosis, indicating fatty liver disease. Half of those were classified as severe. The scans also found that 2.4 percent had fibrosis – scarring on the liver. Severe scarring can cause cirrhosis.

Presenting the results of the study at the International Liver Congress in Vienna, Dr. Kushala Abeysekera, from the University of Bristol, said: “We were concerned to find that, at only 24 years of age, one in five had steatosis and one in 40 had evidence of fibrosis, based on elastography results, in a group of largely asymptomatic, predominantly Caucasian young people.

“The results of our study suggest greater public health awareness of fatty liver disease is needed in young adults in the UK.”

He told the Guardian they did not expect to see these levels of disease in young people. “Nobody has looked at them with fibroscan before. This is a blind spot in clinical practice,” he said. “We don’t look because they are unlikely to have any complications of it.”

They needed more data and would be following up the young people in the study, he said, but “this is potentially a harbinger of things to come. We may see an increase in severe advanced liver disease. It may shift from the 50s and 60s to the 40s and 50s because of the epidemic.”

The vast majority of the young people with fatty liver disease were overweight, with a BMI over 25. Among people with the largest amount of fatty liver deposits, 60 percent were obese.


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