Young people should avoid consuming excessive amounts of sugary drinks to lower the rate of obesity among youth, a pediatrician said on Wednesday, citing as an example the case of an elementary-school student who lost weight and overcame liver problems by giving up sugary drinks.
The parents of the third-grade student, nicknamed Hsiao Hsin (小欣), said they were surprised to find out that their daughter’s fatty liver index was three times the normal level due to daily consumption of sugary drinks, adding that they assumed her weight gain was a normal part of a girl’s development.
A routine health check at her school found that she had moderate stage fatty liver with 30 percent fatty tissue.
Doctors said that at 1.47m and weighing 54.8kg, Hsiao Hsin’s body mass index put her in the “overweight” category.
Hsiao Hsin’s triglycerides and blood-sugar levels were also excessively high, they said, adding that her liver was enlarged and showed signs of chronic inflammation.
Tai Chi-shan (戴季珊), a pediatrician at Taipei Shu-tien Clinic, said that the overweight and obesity rate among the nation’s elementary-school students is 30.4 percent and the rate is 29.8 percent among junior-high school students.
This can be attributed to excessive consumption of sugary drinks, changes in dietary habits and lack of exercise, she said.
Parents should control their children’s diets to prevent the onset of liver disease and premature development, she said, adding that developmental problems tend to stunt a child’s growth.
Children who are obese may develop liver problems, such as chronic inflammation of the liver and liver fibrosis, later in life, Tai said.
Since fatty liver index is hard to diagnose through blood tests, parents should pay particular attention to children with high body mass indices, she said.
Doctors said that after quitting sugary drinks, changing her daily eating habits and increasing her physical activity, Hsiao Hsin lost 1kg and her liver function returned to normal in two months.
Taking medication to treat fatty liver is not recommended for children under 18 years of age because the side effects outweigh the benefits, Tai said.
She suggested parents help children overcome weight problems by replacing sugary drinks with water, changing their dietary habits and encouraging them to exercise.