Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) exhibits tight links with insulin resistance (IR) and the metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic black adolescents have more IR but a lower prevalence of NAFLD and MetS. Our hypothesis was that IR would be a better predictor of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) elevations than is MetS among non-Hispanic blacks.
We analyzed data from 4124 adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the 1999 to 2010 NHANES, using unexplained elevations in ALT (>30 U/L) to characterize presumed NAFLD and using a pediatric adaptation of the Adult Treatment Panel III definition of MetS.
Prevalence of elevated ALT varied by race/ethnicity (Hispanics 13.7%, non-Hispanic white 8.6%, non-Hispanic blacks 5.4%, P < .0001). Among non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics, a classification of MetS performed well in identifying adolescents with elevated ALT (odds ratios [ORs] 9.53 and 5.56, respectively), as did MetS-related indices. However, among non-Hispanic blacks, the association between MetS and ALT elevations was smaller in magnitude and technically nonsignificant (OR = 3.24, P = .051). Furthermore, among non-Hispanic blacks, the presence of IR and elevated waist circumference performed more poorly at identifying ALT elevations (ORs 3.93 and 2.28, respectively: significantly smaller than ORs for non-Hispanic whites, P < .05), with triglyceride elevations being a better predictor (OR = 4.44).
Non-Hispanic black adolescents exhibit a lower relationship between IR and elevated ALT, supporting racial/ethnic differences in the link between MetS and NAFLD. These data may have implications regarding triggers for screening for NAFLD among non-Hispanic black adolescents, focusing particularly on those with triglyceride elevations.