Waistline warning over rise in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

With cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease on the increase, an HKU study says recommended waist measurements for men and women are too high

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 4:00am

Researchers have warned that Hongkongers may have to shed a few more inches off their waistlines if they want to avoid fatty liver disease.

The Health Department advises men to keep their midriffs at 36 inches (91cm) or less and women at 32 inches or less to ward off obesity-related illness.

But the University of Hong Kong medical faculty said yesterday this was not trim enough to prevent fatty liver disease, a possible precursor of liver cancer or cirrhosis. It recommended an amendment to 33 inches for men and 29 inches for women.

"The current standard suggested by the Department of Health may be too loose," said Dr Lee Cheuk-kwong, consultant of the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, which contributed to the study.

The study involved the examination of the livers of 2,493 healthy people who do not drink alcohol and tested negative for hepatitis B and C.

Conducted between August 2010 and March this year, it found that 42 per cent of adults had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The disease was more prevalent in males.

The participants, with an average age of 44, received an ultrasound scan and fibroscan of their livers, a liver function test and a blood test for glucose and cholesterol levels. Of 1,054 people found with the disease, 28 also suffered from severe fibrosis in their liver and four from cirrhosis.

In Western medicine, fatty liver disease - a build-up of fats that replaces healthy tissue - is traditionally believed to be caused by alcohol and hepatitis C infection.

But the university found people who have big waists but do not drink alcohol are still at risk of developing NAFLD. The problem has become particularly rife in North America.

Clinical professor Yuen Man-fung, of the university's Department of Medicine, said: "We tried different ways of examining the individuals including checking their body mass index, but found that their waistlines are the most accurate in pinpointing those most at risk of having NAFLD.

"If a person's fat is distributed around his or her waist, then there is a risk of a fatty liver." Yuen said diabetes and high cholesterol were also risk factors for the disease, which was on the rise in Hong Kong. "Diets are becoming more Westernised … we are eating more fried food," he said.

Clinical assistant professor Dr James Fung Yan-yue, who participated in the study, advised people to have ultrasound liver scans if their waistlines were higher than the recommended measurements.