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Half a Million Obese Kids in England at Risk of Liver Disease

A culture of binge drinking and increasing rates of childhood obesity in England are putting a half million children between the ages of 4 and 14 at risk for liver disease.

According to Professor Martin Lombard, the director of clinical liver services for the Department of Health, England is facing a ‘timebomb’ of liver disease – caused by increasing rates of childhood obesity and a culture of binge drinking.

He estimates that a half million children under the age of 15 are sufficiently obese to be at risk of non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a condition in which fat cells build up in the liver and impair its functioning. This condition has few noticeable side effects but can increase the risks of diabetes and cardiovascular problems, and if allowed to progress unchecked, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

Professor Lombard warned parents that obesity and resultant liver diseases are a silent killer, explaining that, "The unfortunate problem with liver disease is you don't get any symptoms at all until it's at an advanced stage. So you get cirrhosis and then you have complications that arise from that cirrhosis which can be very serious. So it's not until that late stage that you get any symptoms at all.  Parents should be concerned about children who are overweight as they will be at risk of developing fatty liver. "

At present:

  • 1 in 5 four year olds is overweight or obese
  • 1 in 3 grade 6 students is overweight or obese
  • At current rates of increase, by 2050, 2 in 3 English children will be obese

Obese children with already weakened liver functioning are also at increased risk of liver damage from drinking, and given current rates of binge drinking among youth in England, experts like Professor Lombard are worried about what might happen, explaining, "What's of great concern is the potential scenario of half a million children or more approaching their teenage years, which is when some experiment with large amounts of alcohol. Even modest amounts of alcohol may make NAFLD worse."

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