Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Children: Not a Small Matter

Paediatr Drugs. 2018 Aug;20(4):315-329. doi: 10.1007/s40272-018-0292-2.


The prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has increased substantially in the past two decades and NAFLD has now become the most common cause of chronic liver disease in children and adolescents. NAFLD is a broad clinicopathologic spectrum ranging from simple steatosis to varying degrees of necroinflammation called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), leading to fibrosis and subsequently to cirrhosis. Despite the increasing prevalence and progressive nature of NAFLD even among children, therapy for NAFLD in both adults and children are limited. Weight loss remains the only consistently effective therapy for NAFLD. Pharmacologic options are even more limited in children than in adults with NAFLD. Vitamin E has been shown to be effective in improving histology in children with NASH. Few pharmacologic options such as metformin, probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, and cysteamine bitartrate have been studied in children, with limited beneficial effects. However, these studies are limited by small sample size and heterogeneity of outcome assessment after treatment. Recent studies show promising results with bariatric surgery with regards to weight loss and improvement in liver histology in adolescents with NAFLD. In this review article, we discuss epidemiology, pathophysiology, and extrahepatic comorbidities of pediatric NAFLD and review existing therapeutic options for children with NAFLD. We also review novel therapeutic strategies studied in adults that could potentially be studied in children in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Child
  • Diet Therapy
  • Humans
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / physiopathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / therapy
  • Prevalence
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use


  • Vitamin E
  • Metformin