A new study has shown an alarmingly high prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) amongst young adults in the UK, including one in 40 who have already developed fibrosis.

The Children of the 90s study, based at the University of Bristol and presented at The International Liver Congress 2019 in Vienna, Austria, suggests that greater awareness of NAFLD is needed among young adults if a public health crisis is to be avoided.

The study consisted of 4,021 young adults from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) prospective birth cohort, which had previously been assessed for NAFLD as teenagers using ultrasound criteria.

NAFLD prevalence in the original cohort of teenagers was 2.5%, and when revisiting the group as young adults, individuals with known excessive alcohol intake were excluded from the analyses.

On analysis, 2.4% had some degree of fibrosis and 20.8% were found to have steatosis.

"This is the largest study to date to analyse fibrosis and steatosis in young adults with suspected NAFLD using transient elastography," said Dr Kushala Abeysekera, from the University of Bristol in the UK, who presented the results of the study.

"We were concerned to find that, at only 24 years of age, one in five had steatosis and one in 40 had evidence of fibrosis, based on elastography results, in a group of largely asymptomatic, predominantly Caucasian young people. The results of our study suggest greater public health awareness of NAFLD is needed in young adults in the UK."

NAFLD can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis if left untreated, and is described as the accumulation of lipids in the liver (steatosis) that is not related to alcohol consumption. It is the most common form of chronic liver disease among both adults and children, with an estimated global prevalence of 20–30%.