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Birth weight linked to fatty liver disease

Both children born with low and high weight may be at increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Children born with lower or higher weight than normal may have an increased risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), suggests a study* published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

These children also seemed to be at higher risk of more severe disease, but in different ways. Advanced scarring of the liver was associated with low birth weight, while more inflammation was linked to high birth weight. The study is the first to characterise the relationship between high birth weight and NAFLD.

The multicenter study included 538 children under 21 years of age in the US who had been diagnosed with NAFLD and had data recorded on the database of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases NASH Clinical Research Network. Birth weights of 1500-2499g were categorised as low (LBW), 2500-3999g as normal (NBW), and 4000g and above as high (HBW).

The birth weights of this cohort were compared with the birth weight distribution in the general US population, and the severity of liver disease was assessed by birth weight category.

Children with NAFLD (n= 538) had overrepresentation of both LBW and HBW compared with the general US population (LBW, 9.3%; NBW, 75.8%; HBW, 14.9% vs LBW, 6.1%; NBW, 83.5%; HBW 10.5%; P < .0001).

Children with HBW had significantly greater odds of having more severe steatosis (odds ratio (OR), 1.82, 95% CI. 1.15-2.88) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (OR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.21-3.40) compared with children with NBW. In addition, children with NAFLD and LBW had significantly greater odds of having advanced fibrosis (OR, 2.23; 95% CI, 1.08-4.62).

"With the obesity epidemic, we are seeing more babies with high birth weight than ever before," said Mark Fishbein, from Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "Our study shows that these kids are more likely to have serious liver damage by the time they are teenagers."

* Newton KP, Feldman HS, Chambers CD, et al. Low and high birth weights are risk factors for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children. The Journal of Pediatrics, April 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.03.007

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