To overcome the stigma of obesity, it’s important to view this disease as a complex medical issue that increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers. Given its overwhelming prevalence–over one-third U.S. adults–obesity is now recognized as a chronic disease by several organizations, including the American Medical Association.
Body Fat and Liver Disease
The impact of obesity on vital organs can be devastating, especially on the liver, causing insulin resistance that leads to buildup of blood sugar and increases the amount of free fatty acids circulating in blood and liver cells. This buildup of fat is very common in those with Type 2 diabetes, and increases the risk of liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer and death.
It also leads to NAFLD, which affects roughly 100 million Americans and costs the United States healthcare system $32 billion annually, roughly comparable to the cost of strokes at $34 billion each year. It’s not surprising that the prevalence of NAFLD mirrors the rising trend of obesity in the United States.
Early Detection Saves Lives
NAFLD is on target to quickly become the main indication for liver transplants in the country, with the number of healthy livers available for transplants likely to decline. Children as young as five are also developing fatty liver disease through over-consumption of sugars, sodas, fructose and corn syrup and lack of exercise.
Both obesity and NAFLD are often the result of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. In some cases, the fat in the liver cells builds up to the point where the liver cells swell and eventually cause inflammation. But there are usually no symptoms at this point.
For this reason, point-of-care examinations, monitoring and ongoing assessment of liver fat and stiffness as provided by FibroScan, a rapid, non-invasive point of care examination, can more cost-effectively identify individuals who are asymptomatic and undiagnosed for liver damage. This also offers needed metrics for monitoring changes in liver fat due to lifestyle modification.
During Obesity Week, we hope to raise awareness about the critical need for primary care physicians and specialists to take a leading role in helping Americans to recognize the need for early detection and prevention of liver disease.