Childhood Obesity

After a certain age, everyone knows what cirrhosis of the liver is.  It’s a disease that alcoholics get.  Drug users can get it too, especially when they enjoy playing with needles.  It’s a disease that is spoken of in whispers and behind closed doors.  It’s a shameful disease that strikes sad people. 

Perhaps the saddest development of all is that an alarming number of American children and teenagers are developing cirrhosis, too.  It’s just one heart-breaking aspect of the childhood obesity epidemic that is sweeping the United States and many industrialized nations around the world.

The childhood obesity epidemic is fueled by the typical American childhood diet.  This diet is sky-high in fats and loaded with sugars and other refined and over-processed ingredients that exert too much stress on the liver to process effectively for long.  Just as with the alcohol and the IV drugs, excessive fats and sugars wreak havoc on the liver’s ability to clear toxins from the body.

An internal medicine professor at the St. Louis University Liver Center, Brent Tetri, MD, fed laboratory mice a diet based on the typical diet eaten by American kids today.  The diet included 40% fat and high-fructose corn syrup was used liberally.  To replicate the lifestyle of the average American child, the mice were kept sedentary during the four weeks of the study.

In just one month, the mice produced liver enzymes that signal liver damage.  They also exhibited symptoms of glucose intolerance, a condition that is indicative of type II diabetes.

Researchers in Sweden used real, adult, humans to further test the health benefits of the diet attributed to childhood obesity.  These 18 healthy, slim adult volunteers dined on only fast foods for a month and minimized physical activity as much as possible.

How did the adults fare?  Enzymatic evidence of liver damage appeared during the first week.  By the end of the month, the average study participant had gained 12 pounds.

With increasing scientific evidence pointing to childhood obesity, a diet high in fats and artificial sugars, and a growing rate of cirrhosis of the liver in American children, parents are urged to get their child’s liver enzymes tested as a regular part of a childhood physical exam.  Such tests are routine in adult physical exams but the disease has, until recently, been so rare in children that it’s never been a standard part of medical protocol.