Weight gain during early adulthood, trajectory of body shape and the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A prospective cohort study among women

Metabolism. 2020 Dec:113:154398. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2020.154398. Epub 2020 Oct 12.


Background & aims: Obesity is established as a major risk factor for the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, the influence of dynamic changes in adiposity over the life course on NAFLD risk remains poorly understood.

Methods: We collected data from 110,054 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II cohort. Early adulthood weight was ascertained at age 18 years, and weight gain since early adulthood was defined prospectively every 2 years. We used a group-based modeling approach to identify five trajectories of body shape from age 5 years up to age 50 years. NAFLD was defined by physician-confirmed diagnoses of fatty liver, after excluding excess alcohol intake and viral hepatitis, using validated approaches.

Results: We documented 3798 NAFLD cases over a total of 20 years of follow-up. Compared to women who maintained stable weight (±2 kg), women with ≥20 kg of adulthood weight gain had the multivariable aHR of 6.96 (95% CI, 5.27-9.18), and this remained significant after further adjusting for early adulthood BMI and updated BMI (both P trend <0.0001). Compared to women with a medium-stable body shape trajectory, the multivariable aHRs for NAFLD were, 2.84 (95% CI, 2.50-3.22) for lean-marked increase, 2.60 (95% CI, 2.27-2.98) for medium-moderate increase, and 3.39 (95% CI, 2.95-3.89) for medium-marked increase.

Conclusions: Both early adulthood weight gain and lifetime body shape trajectory were significantly and independently associated with excess risk of developing NAFLD in mid-life. Maintaining both lean and stable weight throughout life may offer the greatest benefit for the prevention of NAFLD.

Keywords: NAFLD; Obesity; Trajectory; Weight change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatotypes*
  • Weight Gain*
  • Young Adult