Teenage boys who are obese and don’t exercise to lose weight or eat well face an increased risk of liver disease and cancer as adults.
If you are a parent with an overweight teenage son, you may assume he’ll eventually lose weight as he grows older and hopefully pursues a healthy lifestyle as an adult. But encouraging your son to exercise to lose weight and eat healthily now could help him stay healthy in later years.
Excess pounds during adolescence, it turns out, can set the stage for serious medical conditions by middle-age — including liver disease and liver cancer
That’s the conclusion of a large study published in the journal Gut. Researchers from Karolinska University followed 1.2 million young men for several decades, starting when the research subjects were 18 or 19, to see if weight was a factor in the development of liver problems down the line. And it was.
The findings revealed a high BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) in teen years was a strong risk factor for developing serious liver disease in adulthood — including cirrhosis, liver failure, and portal hypertension (abnormaly high blood pressure in the large vein that brings blood from the intestine to the liver; the condition can cause internal bleeding and severe liver damage).
Being overweight as a teen boy also increased the odds of developing hepatocellular carcinoma in later life. This type of liver cancer has a high mortality rate if it’s not found and surgically removed at a very early stage, or if the patient does not receive a liver transplant, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The more overweight the men studied were as adolescents, the higher their risk was for liver disease and liver cancer — and obesity doubled the risk. Those who were obese and also had type 2 diabetes, which is primarily caused by being overweight and sedentary, were three times more likely to develop serious liver problems by around age 40.
Liver specialist Hannes Hagström, MD, of the Karolinska University Hospital Center for Digestive Diseases, who headed the research, and colleagues warn the rising number of young people around the world who are overweight and obese could lead to an increase in the total number of cases of severe liver disease in the future.
"This could have implications for public health decision making, strengthening the need of targeted intervention against overweight and obesity at an early age, and specifically highlights the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus as a risk factor for liver disease,” the research team concluded.
Childhood obesity is now a significant public health problem in the U.S., and being overweight in childhood is linked to a variety of health problems, in addition to liver disease. One in five American children between the ages of six and 19 are now obese, placing them at risk for type 2 diabetes, joint and bone problems, sleep apnea, and asthma complications. Significantly overweight youngsters are likely to become overweight in adulthood, too, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The primary causes of weight gain in youngsters include eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, a lack of regular physical activity, and sedentary activities such as playing video games and watching television for hours. Not getting enough sleep may also play a role, according to the CDC.
If you are concerned your teen needs help with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, encourage him to exercise to lose weight, eat healthily, and read the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease’s Take Charge of Your Health: A Guide for Teenagers. It explains portion control, how nutritious foods fuel energy for sports and other activities, why fast foods contribute to weight problems, and how teens can fit physical activity into their daily life.
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February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN