In a new study, researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine find that obese children have higher risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension and heart problems. The team publishes the findings in PLOS ONE.

stomach of obese childShare on Pinterest
Children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes.

High blood pressure and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are considered to be emerging health problems related to the childhood obesity epidemic. NAFLD is the inappropriate storage of droplets of fat inside liver cells, and it affects nearly 10% of all children in the US.

The condition is also the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the US. NAFLD is most common among overweight children and teenagers, and it can develop in conjunction with diabetes and other health problems.

The National Institutes of Health Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Clinical Research Network recruited 484 children aged 2-17 years old who had NAFLD. The participants had their blood pressure taken at the start of the study and again at 48 weeks.

At the start of the study, nearly 36% of the group had high blood pressure. At 48 weeks, around 21% of the group had persistent high blood pressure. High blood pressure was present in 2-5% of all children and 10% of obese children.

The study also reports that girls are significantly more likely to have persistent high blood pressure compared with boys.

Lead author Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, in the Department of Pediatrics at UC-San Diego School of Medicine describes the results:

Along with being at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, we found that children with NAFLD who had high blood pressure were significantly more likely to have more fat in their liver than children without high blood pressure. This could lead to a more serious form of liver disease.”

Dr. Schwimmer and colleagues recommend that blood pressure evaluation, control and monitoring should be an integral component of the clinical management of children with NAFLD.

Children with NAFLD are at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes. Also, high blood pressure is a main cause of preventable death and disability, remind the authors, and its origin often occurs in childhood.

Although there are no currently approved treatments for children with NAFLD, there are treatments for high blood pressure. Dr. Schwimmer argues that blood pressure control may be useful for decreasing the risk of premature cardiovascular disease in children.

“Parents and doctors need to be aware of the health risks of children who have NAFLD,” he says. “The sooner high blood pressure is identified and treated in this patient population, the healthier they will be as they transition into adulthood.”

Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that suggested a link between antibiotic exposure and childhood obesity.

We also looked at a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood that examined the link between reduced sleep in children and increased risk of obesity. And in July, we ran a spotlight feature that asked whether the childhood obesity epidemic is being taken seriously.