Being sedentary in childhood may cause premature liver damage
The Sector > Research > Being sedentary in childhood may cause premature liver damage

Being sedentary in childhood may cause premature liver damage

by Freya Lucas

July 10, 2024

Children who spend six or more hours a day engaging in sedentary behaviour such as watching TV or playing video games have a significantly increased risk of severe fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis by young adulthood, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland has found


Fatty liver disease is a harmful fat buildup in the liver. When the condition is not due to alcohol consumption but linked to at least one of five components of metabolic syndrome, it is called metabolic-associated steatotic (fatty) liver disease (MASLD).


“The general public must be aware of this danger of sedentariness on the health of children, adolescents and young adults,” lead researcher Prof. Andrew Agbaje said.

“Advanced fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis, which is severe scarring and hardening of the liver, could increase the risk of future liver cancer or require a liver transplant.”

To reach the findings the Professor analysed data from a long-term study of a large U.K. birth cohort, called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). 


Included in this study were 2,684 children who had repeated measurements of their movements with a waist-worn accelerometer from ages 11 to 24 years of age. At ages 17 and 24 years of age, study participants underwent a liver ultrasound scan to assess for fatty liver and evidence of liver scarring. They also had bloodwork to measure their liver enzyme levels at those two timepoints.

On average, children from the study spent six hours a day sitting or otherwise being sedentary, but this time increased to nine hours daily by young adulthood, the researcher found. In childhood, six hours per day was spent in light-intensity physical activity, which neutralised the deleterious effect of six hours per day spent sedentary.

For each half-hour of sedentary behavior above six hours per day, children had 15 per cent higher odds of developing fatty liver disease before they were 25 years old.


Any increase of sedentary time above six hours a day resulted in a corresponding decrease in the time spent in light-intensity physical activity, therefore three hours less daily by young adulthood. However, each additional half hour of light-intensity physical activity beyond 3 hours per day decreased the odds of severe fatty liver disease by 33 per cent.

“We believe that this alteration in sedentary time versus time for light-intensity physical activity sets the stage for disease initiation and progression,” Prof. Agbaje said.

In sharing the findings he urged a rethink of how children engage in physical activity. 


“The most effective antidote to the devastating health effects of childhood sedentariness is not the much-advertised moderate-to-vigorous physical activity of 60 minutes per day,” he said. “Rather, it is the overlooked light-intensity physical activity of 3 to 4 hours per day.”

Examples of light-intensity physical activity are outdoor games, playing at the playground, walking a dog, running errands for parents, or walking and biking.

To read the findings in full please see here

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