Avoiding obesity will not keep fatty liver disease at bay, it appears, after Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers showed that one in five non-obese people suffered from the non-alcoholic variant of the chronic ailment. The research sheds light on the world’s most common chronic liver disease, which affects about 27 per cent of adults in Hong Kong, and can lead to cancer. “The risk of developing fatty liver would also increase when age goes up,” said Professor Vincent Wong Wai-sun from the university’s division of gastroenterology and hepatology. Hong Kong health insurance giant tightens reimbursement policy Between 2004 and 2015, Wong and his team did two studies into how common and severe fatty liver disease is among non-obese people. “Non-obese” means people with a body mass index below 25. One of the studies, both of which looked at non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, looked at 911 randomly selected people between 2008 and 2010. Of the 701 non-obese people in that sample, 19.3 per cent were found to suffer from the disease, while 60.5 of the obese people did. Both groups showed higher prevalence among older people. Professor Grace Wong Lai-hung, from the same department as Vincent Wong, said: “Fatty liver used to be linked with obesity, but now it could be found in non-obese people too.” People with a BMI reaching the borderline at about 23 or 24, or with a bigger waistline or higher blood glucose level, are among non-obese people at a higher-than-normal risk of the disease. The other study, which followed 307 fatty liver patients from 2004 to 2015, showed that 26 per cent of the non-obese ones would also develop severe liver fibrosis, damage caused by scarring of the organ, which can progress into cancer. Discord lands Hong Kong’s health care accreditation plan in disarray That rate was similar to the rate for obese patients, which was 28 per cent. “[Complications] of fatty liver might progress slower among slimmer persons, but they could also turn into severe liver fibrosis,” Vincent Wong said. Staying slim and eating healthily can help stave off the disease, Grace Wong added. “If body weight could be reduced 4 per cent, around half of fatty liver patients could recover. And if the weight could be cut by 10 per cent, around 90 per cent of patients could have the condition removed,” she said, noting that a low-sugar diet could help. As fatty liver can be symptomless, she recommended regular body checks, including monitoring blood pressure and blood glucose level, to help catch the disease.