What is fatty liver disease?

When someone is overweight or obese, too much fat can be stored in the liver. This can lead to a disease called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. In some children and adults, the extra fat in the liver becomes a more severe problem, causing inflammation and scar tissue. When this happens, it is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, (pronounced stee-at-oh-hep-a-titus), or NASH. Over time, NASH can lead to severe scarring, called cirrhosis (sir-oh-sis). Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and loss of liver function. Unfortunately, children in elementary school are being diagnosed with more and more advanced liver disease due to this process.

What are the risk factors for fatty liver disease?

Besides obesity, other risk factors for NAFLD include many features of the metabolic syndrome, such as:

  • Diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Dyslipidemia (high serum lipids)

Additionally, risk can be increased by race and ethnicity (Hispanics and Native Americans are at greater risk), as well as advancing age.

How do we treat children with fatty liver disease?

Since healthy weight is the first-line approach in improving NAFLD and NASH, our personalized care plans include:

  • Standardized care so each patient receives the highest quality and safest care.
  •  Assessing concerns about weight, weight-related problems and readiness to change.
  • Conducting comprehensive dietary assessments to identify risk factors for excess weight gain.
  • Identifying barriers to making healthier lifestyle changes and working with the family to provide alternate solutions.
  • Partnering with the family and patient to identify realistic, individualized nutrition and activity goals and monitoring progress every 3 to 6 months.
  • Collaborating with other established weight management programs at Cincinnati Children’s to ensure that patients have access to more intensive weight management options, if needed.
  • Offering access to clinical trials of novel therapeutic options.
  • Standard screening for closely related obesity co-morbidities and needed referrals to other subspecialties (endocrinology, pulmonary medicine, cardiology) as needed