“It is difficult to identify individuals in the general population who have an increased risk for development of cirrhosis and severe liver disease later in life,” said Hannes Hagstrom from Karolinska University in Sweden.
“In order to outline effective prevention programmes, we first need to understand how to predict it. The increased prevalence of overweight and obesity has been suggested to contribute to the worldwide increase in liver diseases,” said Hagstrom.
Researchers studied nearly 45,000 men over 40 years. They studied if body mass index (BMI) in late adolescence predicts development of severe liver disease later in life.
The incidence of several liver diseases, especially non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), has increased globally over the last few decades. During the same time, overweight, defined as a BMI above 25, and obesity, defined as a BMI above 30, has increased globally, researchers said.
It has been estimated that if current trends continue, there will be more than two billion overweight and over one billion obese individuals worldwide by 2030.
Obesity in adults has been linked to an increased risk for liver-related death or hospitalisation in individuals both with and without liver disease, as well as a higher risk for liver cell cancer, researchers said.
Overweight and obesity are associated with a worse prognosis in several liver diseases, such as NAFLD, hepatitis B and C, and alcoholic liver disease, they said.
Researchers examined records of close to 45,000 Swedish men who were enlisted for military service in their late teens between 1969 and 1970.
After almost 40 years of follow-up, researchers found that 393 men had been diagnosed with severe liver disease and being overweight was a risk factor for developing severe liver disease after adjusting for a variety of confounding factors, including alcohol and tobacco.
Nearly 3,000 (6.6 per cent) men were overweight with a BMI equal to or greater than 25. Of these, 352 (0.8 per cent) were obese with a BMI equal to or greater than 30, researchers said.
The results showed a 64 per cent increased risk for overweight men compared to men of low normal weight, or a 5 per cent increased risk per per 1 kilogramme per square metre increase in BMI, they said.
“The current study suggests that the increased risk of a high BMI for the development of severe liver disease later in life is already present from an early age,” said Hagstrom.
“It is possible that this increased risk is caused by a longer exposure to being overweight, compared to becoming overweight or obese later in life, and that individuals with a longer history of being overweight have an increased risk of severe liver disease,” she said.