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Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Rates Rising in U.S.

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Updated: 1/30/2012 4:20 pm

April 2, 2011 -- Thanks to rising obesity rates, the U.S. may soon face an epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a major cause of chronic liver disease, according to a new study.

Researchers say if current trends continue for another 20 years, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is expected to increase by 50% by 2030.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the buildup of fat in the liver cells of people who do not drink alcohol excessively. It's the most common liver disorder in Western countries and a key contributor to chronic liver disease.

"Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is fast becoming one of the top concerns for clinicians due to the obesity epidemic and its potential to progress to advanced liver disease, which significantly impacts on overall liver-related mortality," Mark Thursz, vice secretary of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, says in a news release. "This data highlights a serious concern for the future, and the enormous increasing health burden of NAFLD."

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with obesity, insulin resistance (prediabetes) or diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated blood fats.

Liver Disease Following Obesity Trends

In the study, presented at the International Liver Congress in Berlin, researchers analyzed data from three nationwide U.S. surveys conducted between 1988 and 2008, including responses from 39,500 adults.

The results showed that during the study period, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease doubled from 5.51% to 11%.

Researchers found during the first survey period from 1988-1994, 46.8% of all chronic liver disease was related to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. But by 2005-2008, this proportion had risen to 75.1%.

In addition, the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, the two primary risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also rose steadily.

"If the obesity epidemic is anything to go by, the U.S. NAFLD epidemic may have a ripple effect worldwide," Thursz says. He says health systems need to continue to inform the public of the risks of obesity and the importance of diet and exercise.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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