Liver disease: My story as a cautionary tale for parents

February 21, 2017 Jayne Blackburn, MSN, RN, CCRN


If you’ve been reading the Parentelligence blog over the past couple of years, you probably know that Swedish Pediatrics has eliminated juice from its department and is taking other steps as well to promote a healthier diet and lifestyle for children and their families.

Obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

One of the side effects of childhood obesity can be non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.  This disease occurs when excessive fat builds up in the liver, causing inflammation and scarring.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to occur in people who have one or both of these conditions: 
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol or high triglycerides

An epidemic fuels liver disease

A child is considered obese when he or she is above the 95th percentile in weight for children of the same age and sex. We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic that continues to grow and, because of this, we’re now seeing NAFLD in children – some as young as 3 and 4 years old.

Liver disease of any kind can progress to cirrhosis, which damages the liver’s ability to filter our blood for harmful substances and to turn food into energy to fuel our bodies.

My diagnosis

When I began to learn about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t really think much of it. Then it happened to me. Yes, I was diagnosed about six months ago with NAFLD. I am obese and have been for years. I’ve been on multiple diets, only to regain the weight I lose – plus more.

I get being the “fat kid,” the “fat adult,” the one who has trouble keeping up during activities or gets bullied because of size.  It happens to me to this day and, yes, it still hurts.

Turning it around

When my doctor told me I had NAFLD, it felt like a slap in the face. I felt like a complete failure. I don’t drink alcohol, I’ve quit drinking juice and juice products, and I don’t smoke or use drugs. I thought I was pretty healthy overall, except for being obese and having prediabetes and high blood pressure.

As soon as I found out I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, I began working with Swedish Weight Loss Services to learn how to eat nutritiously and stay away from junk. It hasn’t been easy or cheap, but after six months I’ve improved my diet significantly and lost weight. 

And I no longer have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease — or prediabetes.

How to help your child avoid liver disease

Every day, sometimes every few hours, I have to make a conscious choice of what to consume. Will a particular food or drink will help me or harm me?

If you’re a parent, I understand there are times when you’re tired, worn out, exhausted and feel you can’t make one more decision in your day. But the earlier you make good food choices for your child, the better he or she will be able to make healthy choices.  

As I said, eating nutritiously isn’t easy or cheap, but it will encourage your children to be healthier and happier as they grow up. I encourage you to take the first steps: Learn how to read nutrition labels, talk with your child’s pediatrician about daily nutritional goals, and work with others who want the best health for your child.

Have you successfully changed your diet? Share your story and tips for others in our comment section.

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