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Children born with lower or higher weight than normal may be at increased risk for developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by the time they become teenagers, says a study.
Advanced scarring of the liver was associated with low birth weight, while more inflammation was linked to high birth weight, according to the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
"With the obesity epidemic, we are seeing more babies with high birth weight than ever before," said study co-author Mark Fishbein from Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago in the US.
"Our study shows that these kids are more likely to have serious liver damage by the time they are teenagers," Fishbein said.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in children and typically is diagnosed in early adolescence.
In its most severe form it can lead to liver failure and the need for liver transplantation.
"Being able to identify at birth infants at risk for severe liver disease will help initiate earlier interventions," said Fishbein, who also is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
"Maintaining a healthy weight is the main strategy for preventing NAFLD in children," Fishbein added.
The study included 538 children under 21 years of age. Birth weights were categorised as low (1,500-2,499 g), normal (2,500-3,999 g) or high (4,000 g and above) and compared with the birth weight distribution in the general U.S. population.