11:24pm Tuesday 15 October 2019

Health of parents before and during pregnancy linked to fatty liver in teenagers

A Perth study, led by researchers from The University of Western Australian, Edith Cowan University, Curtin University and the Western Australian Cohort (Raine) Study has discovered that a significant part of the risk for fatty liver in teenagers is linked to their parent’s health and lifestyle before and during their mother’s pregnancy.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when excessive fat accumulates in the liver in people who do not drink excessive alcohol. This is now the most common chronic liver disorder in Australia, affecting up to one in four adults and one in seven adolescents and is linked to being overweight, having insulin resistance, diabetes, or having family members with these.

The researchers examined 1170 teenagers aged 17 years from the Raine Study and found NAFLD in 15 per cent of them. In those identified with NAFLD they examined the relationship between NAFLD and characteristics of their parents and their parent’s lifestyle during their mother’s pregnancy.

Lead researcher Dr Koya Ayonrinde from UWA’s Medical School and Fiona Stanley Hospital said for both the male and female teenagers with NAFLD, the researchers found there was an association with them being overweight and/or having parents who were overweight before pregnancy.

“Interestingly, we also found there was a link between a parent’s health and lifestyle and NAFLD in offspring of the same gender,” Dr Ayonrinde said.

“So a mother’s obesity before pregnancy, and whether she smoked during pregnancy or gained excessive weight in the first half of pregnancy was associated with NAFLD in her daughter, while, in sons, NAFLD was more common if parents were obese or the family’s socioeconomic status was low at the start of pregnancy. The mother’s weight gain during pregnancy didn’t seem to have much impact in sons. NAFLD was most common and the amount of fat in the liver was highest if both parents were obese.”

“While we are unsure why we see these gender differences in NAFLD, we suspect a combination of genetic inheritance and family factors including diet and physical activity habits, with boys’ characteristics linked to their father and girls’ to their mother.”

The results of the study have important implications for the community and future research.

“What the results mean for the community is that the health of children and future generations is linked with the health and lifestyle of their parents before and during pregnancy,” Dr Ayonrinde said.

“From this, it is clear that a parent’s health before and during pregnancy is highly important for a child’s health when they are born, and also for their future health as they grow older.

“In future studies it will be interesting to examine more about how genes, parent and child health, gender and lifestyle affect the liver of individuals and future generations. From the Raine Study we are learning a lot about factors affecting health and disease from before birth onwards.”

The results have been published in Hepatology


The Raine Study is a highly successful multi-generational longitudinal study which started in 1989. The Study has enabled many important health discoveries and informed improvements to health policy and practice. The Raine Study is supported by The University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, the University of Notre Dame, Telethon Kids Institute, Women and Infants Research Foundation and the Raine Medical Research Foundation. Further details on the Raine Study are available at www.rainestudy.org.au

Media references

Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Advisor) (+61 8) 6488 6876

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