There is not a wide amount of awareness of NASH even among the highest at-risk adults, but there is also an increasingly worrying trend of increased NAFLD & NASH diagnosis in children, some extremely young. Alarmingly, studies have found that progression from NALFD to more advanced NASH was quicker and more severe than in adults.
There isn’t a lot of empirical data available on younger children and the disease, but several studies have been undertaken in an attempt to understand the prevalence of the disease.
A 2006 study designed specifically for this purpose concluded that 10% of all children in the USA had some form of NAFLD. That’s 7.4 million children. It found that the prevalence ranged from a low of 1% for 2 to 4 year olds all the way to 17% of 15 to 19 year olds. Overall, 38% of all obese children were found to have NAFLD. The same study also found that 23% of those with fatty liver had NASH. Or 1.7 million children.
Another study looked at prevalence using a variety of different methods and found data supporting at least 3% of children based on historical data from the 80s and 90s, and performed their own contemporary research that also found nearly 10% of children had the disease. Generally, the figure is accepted to be between 3% and 10%.
Luckily, recent screening guidelines for pediatricians have recommended screening for children as early as 9 years of age if they are obese or have other significant factors. And a host of secondary risk factors have been identified, including diabetes, family history, and obstructive sleep apnea (recently shown to have an out-sized impact on NAFLD to NASH progression).
As with adults, the prevalence of NAFLD & NASH among children has risen in tandem with the rate of obesity. It’s vital for parents and doctors to intercede with children before these health concerns carry over into dire outcomes in early adulthood.