Infant nutrition and maternal obesity influence the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in adolescents

J Hepatol. 2017 Sep;67(3):568-576. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.03.029. Epub 2017 Jun 12.


Background & aims: The pathway to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in adolescents may have its origins in adiposity gains, nutrition and sedentary lifestyle established during childhood. There is inadequate knowledge regarding the associations between infant nutrition and subsequent NAFLD. We examined the association of maternal factors and infant nutrition, with the subsequent diagnosis of NAFLD in adolescents.

Methods: Adolescents aged 17years in the Western Australian Pregnancy (Raine) Cohort study had fatty liver assessment using liver ultrasound. Prospectively recorded data on maternal pregnancy and infant feeding were examined against a NAFLD outcome during late adolescence.

Results: NAFLD was diagnosed in 15.2% of the 1,170 adolescents examined. Ninety-four percent had been breastfed as infants. The duration of breastfeeding before starting supplementary milk was ⩾4months in 54.4% and ⩾6months in 40.6%. Breastfeeding without supplementary milk ⩾6months (adjusted odds ratio [OR]: 0.64; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.43-0.94, p=0.02), maternal pre-pregnancy obesity (adjusted OR: 2.29; 95% CI: 1.21-4.32, p=0.01) and adolescent obesity (adjusted OR: 9.08; 95% CI: 6.26-13.17, p<0.001) were associated with NAFLD independent of a Western dietary pattern at 17years of age. Adolescents with NAFLD who had been breastfed for ⩾6months had a less adverse metabolic profile compared with adolescents breastfed for <6months. Supplementary milk intake starting before 6months was associated with a higher prevalence and ultrasound severity of NAFLD compared with intake starting after 6months (17.7% vs. 11.2%, p=0.003 and 7.8% vs. 3.4%, p=0.005 respectively).

Conclusion: Though NAFLD is generally mediated through adiposity gains, breastfeeding for at least 6months, avoidance of early supplementary formula milk feeding, and normal maternal pre-pregnancy BMI may reduce the odds of a NAFLD diagnosis during adolescence.

Lay summary: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common liver disorder in which there is too much fat in the liver of people who do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol. In this large study, we found that infants who consumed breast milk for less than 6months before starting infant formula milk, infants who were obese as teenagers or had mothers who were obese at the start of pregnancy, were much more likely to have NAFLD at 17years of age. Based on our findings we consider that reducing the risk of NAFLD in teenagers needs to start before birth, by encouraging normal body mass index before pregnancy, as well as breastfeeding without infant formula milk consumption for the first 6months of life.

Keywords: Adolescents; Breastfeeding; Complementary feeding; Formula milk; Infant feeding; Maternal obesity; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Obesity; Pregnancy; Raine study; Risk factors; Supplementary milk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk