The British Liver Trust is warning of a potential future surge in fatty liver disease as a new YouGov survey reveals that one in three people in Northern Ireland have gained weight since 23rd March 2020 when lockdown began.
Unhealthy eating habits developed during lockdown could lead to an increase in non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its more serious form, non-alcohol related steatohepatitis (NASH).
It is estimated that one in three people in the UK have early-stage NAFLD. About one in five of those will go on to develop NASH, which is soon expected to be the primary reason for liver transplants in the UK.
The YouGov survey commissioned by The British Liver Trust in June also revealed that over one third of people in Northern Ireland claimed that they are eating more sugary and processed foods, and 23% said they were drinking more alcohol.
“The last few months has been an extremely stressful time, which has affected everyone in one way or another, from feelings of isolation to concerns about finances adding to the worry about the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no surprise that a lot of us have been turning to food for comfort,” says Pamela Healy, chief executive of the British Liver Trust. “Regular comfort eating can become a habit which can lead to obesity and a number of health-related issues including fatty liver disease.”
More than 90% of liver disease cases in the UK is due to three main risk factors: obesity, alcohol and viral hepatitis.
“It is a common misconception that alcohol is the only preventable cause of liver disease however many people who don’t drink develop liver disease. This why to reduce your risk of liver damage, you should place as much importance on eating a healthy diet as reducing your alcohol intake. NASH is a serious disease that can lead to a transplant or even death so it is important that we take steps to reduce the obesity epidemic that is affecting the UK and improve early detection. ”
Maintaining a healthy weight through eating a well-balanced diet and taking regular exercise is the best way to prevent fatty liver disease from developing.
Pamela continues, “This is a really important time to be looking after ourselves, both mentally and physically. There are lots of other, much healthier ways, to deal with stress, like taking exercise, having a relaxing bath or learning a new hobby. Fostering healthier habits for stress management is a much better coping strategy for the long term.”
The British Liver Trust’s Love Your Liver campaign focuses on three simple steps to Love Your Liver back to health:
- Cut down on sugar, carbohydrates and fat and take more exercise
- Know the risk factors for viral hepatitis and get tested or vaccinated if at risk
- Drink within recommended limits and have three consecutive days off alcohol every week
The Trust provides support and detailed information for anyone with, or affected by a liver condition.
To find out if you are at risk of fatty liver disease, the British Liver Trust has an online quiz. Please visit www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/screener.