FAST FOOD has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), confirming the need to reduce its consumption. NAFLD, also known as liver steatosis, is a condition in which fat builds up in the liver. NAFLD can subsequently lead to cirrhosis, causing liver failure or cancer. Currently, an improved diet is the only way to treat this condition, and while fast food had previously linked to obesity and diabetes, this is the first study to show a link between liver disease and fast food.
Researchers analysed data from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to demonstrate the impact of fast food consumption on NAFLD. Fast food was defined as meals from a restaurant without wait staff, or from a drive-through. The fatty liver measurements of approximately 4,000 adults were evaluated and compared to their fast food consumption. Overall, 52% consumed some fast food, 29% of whom consumed at least one fifth of their daily calories from fast food.
The team found severely elevated levels of fat in people with obesity or diabetes consuming 20% or more of their daily calories from fast food, compared to those eating less or no fast food. Furthermore, they noted moderate increases of liver fat in the general population whose diet consists of one fifth or more fast food. Lead author Ani Kardashian, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA, explained that healthy livers usually contain less than 5% fat, and that even a moderate increase can result in NAFLD. They further stated: “If people eat one meal a day at a fast food restaurant, they may think they aren’t doing harm, however, if that one meal equals at least one fifth of their daily calories, they are putting their livers at risk.”
Kardashian explained that their findings are particularly alarming considering that fast food consumption has increased in the past 50 years, and has increased further during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the decline in full-service restaurant dining and increased rates of food insecurity. They stated: “We worry that the number of those with fatty livers has gone up even more since the time of the survey.” The team hopes that this study will encourage health care providers to educate patients more on nutrition, especially in patients with diabetes or obesity.