COVID-19 Pandemic: Obesity and Liver Disease Spike in Young People - EMJ

COVID-19 Pandemic: Obesity and Liver Disease Spike in Young People

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LOCKDOWN and social distancing measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic are associated with increased BMI and prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children and adolescents, according to research presented at the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Annual Meeting 2024.   

You Jin Choi, Inje University Ilsan Paik Hospital, Goyang, South Korea, and colleagues, investigated BMI and NAFLD in 3,410 participants aged between 4–18 years, who visited the Bundang CHA paediatric obesity clinic, South Korea, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers used bioelectrical impedance analysis to measure BMI and appendicular skeletal muscle mass. The mean BMI of participants significantly increased from 22.61 to 23.85 during the pandemic (P<0.001), and the proportion of subjects classified as overweight or obese (BMI 23) was significantly higher during this time (28.9% between January 2017–November 2019 versus 52.9% between August 2020–May 2022). To assess the prevalence and severity of NAFLD, intrahepatic fat content was examined using ultrasonography. The research team discovered that the prevalence of NAFLD in young people increased from 12.4% to 19.5% during the COVID-19 pandemic (P<0.001). Additionally, the researchers determined that disease severity was significantly greater for participants diagnosed during this period than those diagnosed before the COVID-19 pandemic (P>0.001).  

The results of the study demonstrate the impact of lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic on young people’s health, particularly regarding BMI and the prevalence and severity of NAFLD. The researchers suggested that reduced physical activity and disrupted health management due to social distancing are responsible for weight gain and the occurrence of obesity-related diseases in children and adolescents. These findings highlight the need for targeted public health interventions to mitigate the potential effects of pandemic-related lifestyle changes on young people’s health.  

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