We’ve all heard the reports of the rise in childhood obesity in a number of first-world nations, including the U.S.
Now there’s another cause for concern when it comes to the kiddies: some 40% of obese children may have fatty liver disease, according to reports.
And there’s a yet more ominous side to this coin: that number means that 60% of NAFLD kids aren’t heavy – which means they (and their parents) may never know they have the condition. (A child with a weight or other health concern is more likely to be under the care of a physician, while a child who appears within “normal” weight range probably isn’t being proactively tested for a liver or other condition.)
Taking into account the percentage of overweight/obese children in the United States and the 40% suggested NAFLD number, it is estimated that some 10% of U.S. children suffer with NAFLD.
Larger Numbers or Just More Awareness?
Are we only now realizing this issue exists in children, including healthy-weight children? Or is the condition itself actually increasing?
Experts say it’s likely a bit of each. As awareness of NAFLD – frequently a “silent” condition until its progression causes obvious symptoms – increases, statistics will appear to have ballooned. On the other hand, we are currently seeing an unprecedented incidence of overweight in youngsters, with a staggering quadruple the number of overweight and obese children v. 30 years ago.
And since NAFLD has a tie-in to an overweight condition in general, this increase is likely contributing to more NAFLD in children.
What Can Be Done About It?
There are various factors that contribute to NAFLD. Weight is only one (and as we’ve seen, doesn’t always hold true for NAFLD patients, especially children). Genetics may also play a role, as well as the type of food the child eats even if she isn’t technically overeating calories-wise. So can the family’s overall lifestyle.
A diagnosis of NAFLD – whether in an adult or child – often prompts an overhaul for the entire family, as it serves as a warning sign to those with shared genetics and/or living quarters. In order to help prevent NAFLD in your child:
- Get your family into new exercise habits – including showing your child (and yourself) that exercise can be fun. Get outside with your child and throw a baseball back and forth or do practice soccer drills in the yard. Take your child to the park and swing on the swings with her. Go rollerblading, ice skating or go to a water park or other active park. Start a tradition of shared bike rides or walks several times a week or on a special day of the week.
- Start eating better. That doesn’t necessarily mean “start eating less.” The statistics revealed above suggest a child may develop NAFLD even without eating too much food. Incorporate veggies and fruits in your child’s AND your diet.
- If your child is overweight, don’t make a big deal of it, but do take her to the doctor for a checkup. Ask the doctor whether she is willing to test for fatty liver as well as a full basic blood panel and basic once-over of all her major bodily systems.
- DON’T let your child get down on herself or call herself “fat.” Bring it down to “healthy” and “unhealthy.” Talk about making good choices, not cutting back, cutting down or eliminating every possible “fun” food.
- Find new ways to “dress up” foods. Instead of oil-laden chips, pop corn together and sprinkle with your own desired amount of seasonings. Add low-fat dip to veggies for a watching-movies-at-home snack. Cook together so your child can have fun learning to create healthful dishes.