How to avoid fatty liver in children

Sugary meals and drinks, such as soda and bottled juice should be consumed in moderation, and limiting the intake of saturated fats should be a priority.

How to avoid fatty liver in children
In youngsters, the liver fat content is high. Photo by julien Tromeur / Unsplash

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a disease that can affect adults and children and can lead to cirrhosis. Initially, this disease is silent, that is, people do not show signs or symptoms, which makes it difficult to detect. If the disease is not detected and treated in time, it can progress to cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

Different research studies indicate that the possible risk factors for this disease could be obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Diet also plays a very important role, since diets rich in simple sugars and fats seem to be detrimental to health.

In Mexico and the state of Sonora, obesity is a health problem that affects both adults and children. It has been shown that school-age children have a high consumption of simple sugars (soft drinks, juices, sweets of all kinds, pastries) and fats (fried foods, foods prepared with a lot of oil or butter). In these minors, glucose alterations, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity, and high levels of triglycerides in the blood can be observed.

In this context, the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD) conducted a study to analyze the presence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children and found that 41% of boys and 25% of girls, aged approximately 7 years, had a high level of body fat; that is, it was elevated in approximately 3 out of every 10 boys and girls.

Among the findings, it was found that 17.5% of the children had altered glucose levels and 12 cases of insulin resistance were detected. This increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease at an early age.

In this study, in particular, the presence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease could not be found. However, it was observed that consumption of simple carbohydrates is associated with increased body fat. Likewise, consumption of saturated fat (snow, butter, lard, oils) is associated with increased waist circumference, which, in turn, is related to elevated levels of the liver enzyme (ALT), which could lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

To prevent this disease, it is important to avoid excessive consumption of fats, mainly saturated fats, and to reduce the consumption of foods rich in sugars such as soft drinks and bottled juices.

It is important to maintain a good diet at home, rich in fruits and vegetables, combined in different colors so that they are more attractive to the little ones at home, and also include the consumption of beef, chicken, fish, and cereals such as tortillas and bread, and maintain frequent consumption of plain water.

Boys and girls should get used to daily physical exercise from an early age to decrease or avoid high levels of fat in the body.

Authors: Abril Peña Meza, Master of Science student, and Graciela Caire Juvera and María del Socorro Saucedo Tamayo, researchers of the Nutrition Coordination of CIAD.