PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Obese children face a high risk of suffering from liver cirrhosis or cancer as they get older unless parents intercept the problem early.
Malaysian Liver Foundation president Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, quoting Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity, said that as many as 15% of Malaysian toddlers were overweight or obese while 30% of primary school children faced the problem.
"If the non-alcoholic fatty liver problem is not addressed, these children can end up as obese adults and prone to all kinds of diseases such as liver damage, diabetes, hypertension and getting a stroke at a younger age," he said in an interview in conjunction with the World Hepatitis Day campaign recently.
Dr Ismail said that fatty liver would become a problem when it reaches the non-alcoholic steatohepatitis stage, where inflammation of liver occurs and can lead to scarring and subsequently cirrhosis or liver cancer.
"Fatty liver can be reversed but not liver cirrhosis," he said.
Dr Ismail urged parents to be good role models for their children's sake.
Many children were overweight because they ate outside food with high fat, sugar and salt content but did not expend the calories by exercising, he said.
"Parents should give their children a balanced diet and add more fruits and vegetables into their food, use less sugar and salt and complete it with physical activities," he said.
Dr Ismail said overweight children also suffered from poor self-esteem and parents should not push them too hard. Instead, they should find activities the children like to be involved in so they would have a sense of purpose.
Parents were also encouraged to do activities with their children, he said. Obesity in Malaysia is the worst among Asean countries.
About 94% of obese persons with body mass index (BMI) more than 30 have fatty liver while 67% of those with BMI 25 to 30 also have the condition. About 25% of normal weight patients also have fatty liver.
Universiti Malaya Medical Specialist senior consultant paediatrician Prof Lee Way Seah said cases of liver damage as a result of obesity was not common among children in the past but it is in recent years.
If nothing is done for the children, their livers could fail and they could die because cadaveric donors are hard to come by here, he said.