OBJECTIVE. Fatty liver disease is diagnosed increasingly in children, but the prevalence remains unknown. We sought to determine the prevalence of pediatric fatty liver as diagnosed by histology in a population-based sample.
METHODS. We conducted a retrospective review of 742 children between the ages of 2 and 19 years who had an autopsy performed by a county medical examiner from 1993 to 2003. Fatty liver was defined as ≥5% of hepatocytes containing macrovesicular fat.
RESULTS. Fatty liver was present in 13% of subjects. For children and adolescents age 2 to 19 years, the prevalence of fatty liver adjusted for age, gender, race, and ethnicity is estimated to be 9.6%. Fatty liver prevalence increases with age, ranging from 0.7% for ages 2 to 4 up to 17.3% for ages 15 to 19 years. Fatty liver prevalence differs significantly by race and ethnicity (Asian: 10.2%; black: 1.5%; Hispanic: 11.8%; white: 8.6%). The highest rate of fatty liver was seen in obese children (38%).
CONCLUSIONS. Fatty liver is the most common liver abnormality in children age 2 to 19 years. The presence of macrovesicular hepatic steatosis in ∼1 of every 10 children has important ramifications for the long-term health of children and young adults. The influence of the risk factors identified should be taken into consideration in the development of protocols designed to screen at-risk children and adolescents.