KOLKATA: Kids, beware. The next time you gorge on junk food, keep in mind that those burgers and rolls are pushing you to a point of no return.
According to a study conducted by Diabetes Awareness and You (DAY) - a platform of clinical specialists - children in the city now have a weaker liver and are more prone to diseases than they were 15 years ago. An alarming 12-15% of kids and adolescents between 12 and 16 years of age suffer from fatty liver. It can eventually lead to more serious and life-threatening ailments like cirrhosis and liver cancer. While fat-rich food and a sedentary lifestyle are being blamed for the threat, doctors warn that liver diseases could be the second most common ailment in the city, after fdiabetes, in another 15 years.

Conducted across 23 up-market schools in Kolkata, the study involved a routine SGPT test, which provided a shocking result. It showed that 12-15% had signs of fatty liver. A majority of these children were obese as well. "It confirms our worst fears about the impact of fast food and aerated drinks. Coupled with lack of exercises, these have started taking a heavy toll on the health of children. Over the years, many of them are likely to suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or cirrhosis of liver. They will also be more prone to jaundice," said Debashish Basu, preventive medicine specialists and a member of DAY.

The study also revealed that children suffering from fatty liver consumed more packaged food and carbonated drinks than the rest. On an average, they had less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Fatty liver was the major cause of cirrhosis among adults, said gastro-enterelogist PK Sethi. "Change in food habits over the last 10-12 years is now taking a toll on young adults. Those in their early or mid-thirties are often suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that was quite rare a decade ago. Unless treated on time, this can lead to liver cirrhosis," said Sethi.

NAFLD, Sethi pointed out, heightens the risk of cardio-vascular diseases. "Generally, people suffering from NAFLD develop heart diseases. They have a history of obesity, have a sedentary lifestyle and are invariably hooked to fast food," said Sethi. Build-up of fat cells within the liver leads to NAFLD. Over a period of time, it can damage liver tissues. Unless controlled, it eventually leads to cirrhosis. "Unlike 10-15 years ago, when cirrhosis or NAFLD patients would be above 50 years of age, now people across all age groups are falling prey. In many cases, the disease is being detected at an acute stage which means it had set in at a very young age," added Sethi.

It is difficult to identify fatty liver at an initial stage, experts said. There are hardly any symptoms till the disease takes on an acute form. "So obesity or a sudden weight gain needs to be taken seriously. Overweight children are more likely to have fat deposits in the liver. Till now, it goes undetected in most cases. The result is that these patients end up with multiple diseases like cardiac disorders, blood sugar, obesity and liver failure at a later age. Usually, this cluster is a constellation and one leads to another. Unless dealt with at the earliest, you can't prevent them," said medicine expert Subrata Maitra.

Fatty liver is not unusual even among children as young as six to eight years, according to paediatrician Shantanu Ray. "Ten years ago, it would be very rare, but no longer. Overweight children often have fat deposits in the liver and junk food is squarely responsible for this," said Ray.


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