The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore announced that it has opened a clinic to treat children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a buildup of fat in the liver.

NAFLD is a condition that is increasingly affecting children—as many as one in 10 in the United States. It is closely associated with obesity and can lead to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. In some cases, it can require a liver transplant. Although childhood obesity is a public health concern, NAFLD is less well-known and is frequently undertreated.

Many caregivers are unaware of NAFLD, yet children who struggle with weight are at an increased risk for developing the condition. The new clinic at CHAM will offer diagnosis and treatment of the disease with a multidisciplinary care team, including a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist.

“Fatty liver disease has traditionally been thought of as an adult problem, but we have seen children as young as 4 years old with fat on their livers,” said Bryan Rudolph, M.D., attending physician, Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, CHAM and assistant professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who is running the clinic. “Parents need to know that children are also susceptible to obesity-related complications such as fatty liver disease.”

NAFLD does not have many obvious symptoms. Obesity is a risk factor, and sometimes children can experience abdominal pain. Early stages of NAFLD can be reversed through lifestyle modifications, including improved diet and exercise. However, if left undetected, it can lead to inflammation, liver damage and scarring. It is expected to soon become the number one cause of liver transplantation in adults.

In addition to diagnosis, treatment (including nutritional counseling) and monitoring, clinicians at the NAFLD clinic will conduct research to identify the best practices for non-invasive diagnosis of the disease. This research will be ongoing, with the goal of informing specialists around the country how to best identify children at risk and confirm diagnosis without doing a liver biopsy—an invasive procedure that is currently the standard of care.

“NAFLD is the most common liver disorder in the United States,” said Rudolph. “The sooner we can identify children at risk and create an effective treatment plan, the less likely they are to develop life-threatening and costly complications.”

Members of the public who would like to schedule an appointment at the new Fatty Liver Disease Clinic at CHAM may call 718-741-2450. For more information about Montefiore, visit www.montefiore.org.