Pediatric liver disease said to increase type 2 diabetes risk

Even kids aren’t immune to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) with recent reports suggesting that as many as 8 million kids in the United Stages itself are affected by this disease. According to a new study, pediatric liver disease increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

In NAFLD, the cells of the liver store large fat droplets, which can affect the function of the liver. Doctors have long observed that there is a relationship between NAFLD and type 2 diabetes in adults, but much less is known about a similar connection in children. Rates of type 2 diabetes have doubled in children over the past 20 years. Children with NAFLD have features of insulin resistance, a key characteristic of type 2 diabetes, and so may be at risk for developing the disease.

Researchers say that there is a growing public health crisis as children with diabetes mature into adults with diabetes. This calls for a better understanding of NAFLD in kids and how it plays a role in type 2 diabetes risk in children so that we can actively work to prevent it.

In a new study, published June 13, 2022 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, a national team of researchers, led by senior author Schwimmer, provide hard numbers describing the connection between NAFLD and diabetes risk, finding that among 892 children with NAFLD enrolled in the Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Clinical Research Network, type 2 diabetes was present in 6.6 percent of the children at initial assessment, with the incidence rate increasing 3 percent annually over the next four years.

By the end of the study, one in every six children had developed type 2 diabetes.

“This is alarming because type 2 diabetes in youth is a much more aggressive disease than in adults, with more immediate and serious complications and outcomes,” said Schwimmer.

The authors also identified specific factors that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in children with NAFLD: sex (females were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes), severity of obesity and the amount of fat and scar tissue in the liver.