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A Growing Concern for Children and Adults in the US: Obesity, Which Can Lead to Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

By Donna Sciacca, Program Manager

The dangers of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity have been in the news over the years. What most people may not know, however, is that these conditions put people at higher risk for a disease called Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD. NAFLD is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States and is the third most common indication for liver transplantation in this country. Between 79,000,000 and 90,000,000 Americans have NAFLD.

NAFLD is the accumulation of fat in the livers of people who drink little to no alcohol. NAFLD in and of itself causes no symptoms or discomfort. It can progress, however, to a condition called NASH (Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis). NASH causes inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver. People with NASH are at higher risk for liver failure, liver cancer and/or the need for a liver transplant.

The number of people being diagnosed with NAFLD is increasing as our nation’s rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol soar. Consider these statistics:

-There are over 316 million people in the USA.

-More than 30% of Americans and 12.5% of children and adolescents are obese.

-Approximately 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and an estimated 79 million American adults have pre-diabetes.

-Approximately 71 million Americans have high (or “bad”) cholesterol.

Certain populations appear to have a genetic predisposition to NAFLD (e.g., Hispanics). NAFLD is also associated with metabolic syndrome and can be a marker for higher risk for cardiovascular disease and other complications.

It is very important to be proactive in preventing damage to the liver, as this organ performs functions that are essential to life. It is the body’s largest filter of all that we eat, drink, breathe in and absorb through our skin. The liver helps to clot blood, strengthen the immune system, and build muscle. The liver has a unique ability to regenerate, as long as it is not too severely damaged.

NAFLD is preventable and can be reversible. NAFLD is a preventable and can also be reversible. The things we can do to maintain liver health include:

-Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy;

-Limiting our consumption of “junk food” high in sugars, saturated fats and salt;

-Incorporating moderate exercise into our daily routines to help keep our weight at healthy levels;

-Managing diabetes and cholesterol as well as possible;

-Avoiding alcohol. Alcohol is toxic to liver cells, so consuming alcohol when NAFLD or other liver disease is present can accelerate damage to the organ.

By taking these steps, we can reduce the likelihood for obesity, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol—thereby reducing our risk for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

Page updated: August 4th, 2014