Recent studies have shown that 1 in 4 people living within the United States has fatty liver disease. However, the rate among Latinos is considerably higher at around 45%. Scientists are examining the effects of fatty liver disease and why certain communities are at higher risk than others.
A person is diagnosed with fatty liver disease if more than 5% of their liver weight consists of fat. However, ” it can progress to a more severe condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, which is linked to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. This progressive form of fatty liver disease is the fastest-growing cause of liver transplants in young adults.”
A surprising new research finding, is that the sugar in sweetened beverages can be passed from mother to child via breast feeding. When a mother consumes a beverage sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, the fructose level increases in the breast milk and stays elevated for hours. This can contribute to infant obesity and the development of a fatty liver, according to Michael Goran, the director of the Diabetes and Obesity program at University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).
Goran leads a program called HEROES or Healthy Eating Through Reduction of Excess Sugar. The program helps young people avoid unhealthy habits to help reduce obesity and prevent fatty liver disease.
Many lawmakers are now attempting to decrease the consumption of sugar laden drinks, whether it is through a soda tax or added warning labels. However, many believe this is not enough. Public health agencies need to be more involved in raising awareness and discouraging marketing of sugary drinks to children and adults alike.
A concerning aspect is the amount of Latinos affected by fatty liver disease. A study revealed that a gene called PNPLA3 increases the risk of fatty liver and about 1/2 of the Latino population studied had the gene and a quarter has two copies of the gene.
“Medical researchers consider fatty liver disease a manifestation of metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include excess visceral adiposity, elevated blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”
Low-income neighborhoods, often struggle with lack of resources combined with increased availability of unhealthy and cheaper fast food options, which can be a barrier to healthy eating. In an effort to improve health in these areas, HEROES has implemented farmers markets, community gardens and turned corner stores into markets with healthier options.
Providers and educators are urging people to decrease sugar intake and cut back on refined, low-fiber, carbohydrates to avoid health risks in the future. Let’s help get the word out eating less sugar and increasing fiber and whole food intake.
To learn more: Why are so many Latino children developing fatty liver disease? – PBS
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