The alcoholic calling card that’s killing our kids

I need you to see the following headline exactly as I saw it. Because frankly, its contents shocked and horrified me:

Cardiac abnormalities common in obese kids with fatty livers.

I really just couldn’t believe how many things were wrong with that one sentence.

In case you need a quick refresher, fatty liver refers to a dangerous build-up of triglycerides in this organ. And aside from alcoholism, the leading cause of this condition is the excessive consumption of sugar (hence the term non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).

The American Liver Foundation estimates that close to 10 percent of all U.S. children have NAFLD. This includes one percent of all kids ages two to four–and a whopping 17 percent of teens ages 15 to 19.

Allow me to repeat that: There are two-year-olds in this country with fatty liver disease. Am I the only person outraged by this?

Sometimes, it certainly feels that way. But hopefully that will change in the near future. Because the consequences are downright terrifying. As a new study clearly illustrates.

This research came out of Italy. And according to its results, more than a third of obese children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) also show signs of left ventricular abnormalities in an ECG.

Translation: These kids have heart disease.

This was actually the first study of its kind. (Though I doubt it will be the last.) The researchers selected 50 children with fatty liver disease confirmed by biopsy. Of these kids, 18–that is, 36 percent–showed left ventricular hypertrophy. (That’s a thickening of the heart’s left pumping chamber.)

Seven of the kids (14 percent) had a concentric geometry alteration. (In other words, structural changes to the heart.) Eight (16 percent) had left atrial dilatation, and 23 (close to half, at 46 percent) had inappropriate left ventricular mass–both fancy terms for an enlarged heart.

Not surprisingly, almost all the kids with the most severe form of fatty liver disease–an inflammatory and very serious condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)–had a thickened heart muscle.

According to the researchers, “these findings may indicate a possible direct relationship between liver and heart steatosis.” And this means that kids with fatty liver may face a higher risk of heart disease, whether they’re dealing with other cardiovascular risk factors or not.

This study highlights three harsh realities that we need to face–and do something about:

  1. There are obese children.
  2. There are obese children with fatty liver disease.
  3. Signs of heart disease are actually common in these kids.

Call an overweight child what you will–pleasantly plump, big-boned, take your pick. But the fact is that obesity is killing our kids. And here’s yet another study that proves it.

They are not likely to simply “grow out of it.” And the consequences are very grave. So I’m begging you. Please teach your children how to eat well.

If you need some guidance on the subject, you’re in luck. I literally wrote the book on it. It’s called Feed Your Kids Well.

Read it, and apply its contents to your whole family’s meals. Because it’s the only way to ensure that your children escape what is now a tragically common fate.

“Cardiac abnormalities common in obese kids with fatty livers.” Reuters. 23 October 2013.
“Early left ventricular abnormality/dysfunction in obese children affected by NAFLD.” Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Oct 8. pii: S0939-4753(13)00154-3.