Fast Food Links To Higher Chances Of Liver Disease, New Study Says

Previously, studies have found consuming fast food raises the chances of obesity. New U.S. research investigates if the popular American diet impacts rates of liver disease.

A project from Keck Medicine of USC published Monday found those looking to cut back on fast food are making good choices for their health. Data shows fast-food eats are correlated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fast-food consumption numbers, the cuisine is an American staple, with over 36% of U.S. adults having fast food any given day.

The liver is the second-largest organ in the body behind the skin, helping divide nutrients and waste as they pass through the digestive system. Liver disease can refer to multiple conditions, the study released yesterday primarily focuses on non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This disease is caused by an increased presence of fat within the liver.

The main symptoms of non-alcohol fatty liver disease include tiredness and pain or discomfort in the upper-right abdomen.

Non-alcohol fatty liver disease common form of chronic liver disease in the U.S. Individuals with the disease can develop more aggressive forms that can progress to liver failure. This disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, replicates the same consequences as forms due to heavy alcohol consumption.

A main precursor to non-alcohol fatty liver disease is obesity. Lead author of the new research and hepatologist with Keck Medicine, Ani Kardashian (M.D.), highlights this in a Keck Medicine of USC press release.

"Healthy livers contain a small amount of fat, usually less than 5%, and even a moderate increase in fat can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The severe rise in liver fat in those with obesity or diabetes is especially striking, and probably due to the fact that these conditions cause a greater susceptibility for fat to build up in the liver."

Hepatologist with Keck Medicine, Ami Kardashian, M.D.

Fast-food options are plentiful in the U.S. Kardashian says fast-food consumption has increased significantly in the last 50 years, and that COVID-19 played a part in its increase in recent years. Popular fast-food options with drive-thrus were much easier to access than many full-service restaurants during the pandemic.

Interestingly enough, the higher economic class an individual is in the U.S. the more likely they are to consume fast food, based on CDC data. Also, the racial group with the largest fast-food consumption was non-Hispanic blacks at 42.4%, but no racial group ate less than 31%.

The Keck Medicine of USC study evaluated 4,000 adults and compared their fatty liver measurements to their fast-food consumption. Numbers from the survey show 52% consumed fast food and 29% consumed one-fifth or more of their calories from fast food — all experienced a rise in their liver fat levels.

Food items classified as fast food in the study feature pizza or food from a drive-through establishment with no servers.

“If people eat one meal a day at a fast-food restaurant, they may think they aren’t doing harm,” Kardashian said. “However, if that one meal equals at least one-fifth of their daily calories, they are putting their livers at risk.”

Low-calorie food items do exist. Viewing a fast-food menu’s calorie count can be accessed online in many cases, yet many Americans are struggling to convert to those items fully. The CDC found the obesity prevalence in the U.S. between 2017 and 2020 was 41.9%.

Removing high-carb foods and sugar-sweetened beverages will help against added calories with little nutritional benefit. Consuming lean meats, low-fat calcium-rich foods, and healthy servings of fruits and vegetables over fried options can be beneficial.

Physical activity is a great way to combat obesity in combination with good eating habits. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends for adults 150 minutes of exercise per week and 60 minutes of play per day for children.

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