Due to rising rates of childhood obesity and diabetes in Texas, non-alcohol induced fatty liver disease is the number one need for transplant in young adults. We sat down with Dr. Poordad of the Texas Liver Institute to learn what is behind this epidemic. Even though Dr. Poordad himself pioneered the now FDA-approved treatment for Hepatitis C, he says we need to get to the root of the problem instead of relying on a pill to cure liver disease associated with obesity.
What do you think are the main causes of the rising rate of childhood obesity?
Children are becoming obese due to in changes in activity level and eating habits. Processed and fast foods coupled with less activity both in school and after school have contributed to childhood obesity.
What can parents do to prevent obesity and liver disease in their children?
Childhood is the time we form our habits–good and bad. We are doing a disservice to our kids by not instilling good habits at a younger age. I myself am a busy parent, so I understand this can be difficult. However, we must make an effort to teach our children to eat better and be more physically active. Making sure you take your children outside to play and get them involved in after-school sports activities is a good start. Not only is it important to preventing obesity, but it is also important to developing good vision, especially as children spend more hours looking at screens. Regardless of socioeconomic status, parents can find ways to get active outdoors with their children. It can be as simple as playing catch outside with them.
Watching what your kids eat is important, too. Minimize processed foods, candy, and soda. Instead, emphasize fruits, vegetables, and healthy protein. By the time these kids are in their 20s and 30s, their habits have become ingrained behavior. Therefore, it becomes much more difficult to adopt healthy diet and lifestyle.
Also, make sure kids have proper sleep hygiene, which dictates the body’s metabolism. Get children to bed early. Kinds under the age of 10 need 11-12 hours of sleep, and those over the age of 10 need 8-10 hours of sleep.
What are the most promising new liver disease treatments available today?
In the field of viral Hepatitis, we’ve made tremendous gains in the past few years. We can now cure Hepatitis C. We are 3-5 years away from getting drugs FDA-approved to reverse some of the scarring left behind from liver disease. However, these medical advances cannot be done in isolation; we are not looking for a pill to fix everything. We still need to focus on all of the aforementioned good habits.
Obesity must be fixed through healthy living since we are trying to reverse damage that occurs to organs as a result to obesity. More important than that is coming together as a community to rally around educating children on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Texas is on the forefront of this movement.
What do you think is the most effective way to come together as a community to put more focus on preventative care?
Government is important, especially on the local or state level. Local and state governments can play a major role by examining their own communities, especially considering the heterogeneity of different regions. For example, in a state like Texas, where we have a large hispanic population, the Mexican-American diet needs to be considered. Every state has different needs and concerns.
There needs to be more labeling and more awareness on what people are eating. Government could take action by implementing certain restrictions on what is found in grocery stores and restaurants. There also has to be an onus on people to take care of themselves—and government could reward them for that rather than punishing them for the alternative.
We need to get the population engaged as well as get the government and, more importantly, the schools on board. Also, if parents are not going to be helpful in this regard, maybe we need to focus on educating the children. Then the children can be helpful in steering the parents toward better diet and lifestyle choices. Educating on every level is key