Hispanic children genetically predisposed to developing fatty liver disease

Two studies from the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) have found evidence that Hispanic children and adolescents are genetically predisposed to developing fatty liver disease--a condition that can lead to cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The studies, recently published in the journals Diabetes and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that Hispanic children who carry the PNPLA3 gene variant (GG) have increased liver fat. Children who carry the variant are also more susceptible to developing liver fat when consuming a high sugar diet.

Previous research has shown that Hispanics are particularly susceptible to the accumulation of fat in the liver, and reports suggest that nearly four of 10 obese Hispanic children and adolescents have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

"Collectively these findings demonstrate that Hispanics are genetically susceptible to the negative health effects of high sugar consumption, and that this effect is manifested early in life," said Principal Investigator Michael I. Goran, professor of preventive medicine, physiology and biophysics and pediatrics, and director of the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine. "This is a major public health concern, especially in the face of massive marketing of sugary beverages to children."

The researchers conducted cross-sectional studies of more than 300 Hispanic youth (ages 8-18) in the Los Angeles area, using metabolic, diet and genetic measures.

They found that GG carriers have almost double the amount of liver fat content as non-carriers.