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  • Posted June 4, 2024

Too Much Sitting Could Be Harming Kids' Livers

Kids who spend more than six hours a day on their duffs have a greater risk of severe fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis by the time they're young adults, a new study claims.

Children have 15% higher odds of fatty liver disease by age 25 for each additional half-hour of sedentary behavior above 6 hours daily, researchers found.

However, researchers also found a protective effect from light physical activity.

The odds of severe fatty liver disease declined by 33% for each additional half-hour of light-intensity activity beyond three hours a day, researchers found.

“The most effective antidote to the devastating health effects of childhood sedentariness is not the much-advertised moderate-to-vigorous physical activity of 60 minutes per day,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Agbaje, an associate professor of epidemiology and child health with the University of Eastern Finland. “Rather, it is the overlooked light-intensity physical activity of 3 to 4 hours per day.”

Examples of light-intensity physical activity are outdoor games, playing at the playground, walking a dog, running errands for parents or walking and biking, researchers said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from nearly 2,700 British children who intermittently wore a wrist device to track their daily activity from ages 11 to 24.

The participants underwent a liver ultrasound at ages 17 and 24, to assess for fatty liver and check for evidence of liver scarring.

A buildup of fat in the liver can cause the liver to become scarred, which can lead to potentially fatal conditions like liver failure and liver cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

About 20% of participants had fatty liver disease by age 24, results show.

This finding was surprising because the risk of fatty liver disease increased eightfold in only seven years, Agbaje said, adding that experts wouldn't expect the prevalence of fatty liver disease to reach 20% until people reach their mid-40s.

Half of the 24-year-olds with fatty liver disease had severe disease, researchers found. One in every 40 young adults already had signs of liver scarring, and three in 1,000 could be diagnosed with cirrhosis, results showed.

“The general public must be aware of this danger of sedentariness on the health of children, adolescents and young adults,” Agbaje said. “Advanced fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis, which is severe scarring and hardening of the liver, could increase the risk of future liver cancer or require a liver transplant.”

The new study was published in the journal Gut and Liver, and it was simultaneously presented Saturday at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Boston.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about fatty liver disease.

SOURCE: The Endocrine Society, news release, June 1, 2024

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