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The research included nearly 45,000 Swedish males who entered military service in their late teens between 1969 and 1970. The investigators reviewed over 40 years of their health information. Nearly 400 of them were diagnosed with severe liver disease, the study authors said.
Men who were overweight or obese in their late teens were 64 percent more likely to develop severe liver disease compared with men who had a low normal weight in their late teens. The researchers said that worked out to a 5 percent increased risk for every one point increase in body mass index (BMI).
BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height. Overweight is defined as a BMI above 25. Obesity is defined as a BMI above 30, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It is difficult to identify individuals in the general population who have an increased risk for development of cirrhosis and severe liver disease later in life," said lead investigator Dr. Hannes Hagstrom.
But Hagstrom, of the Center for Digestive Diseases at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said it's important to learn how to predict liver disease so that researchers can develop effective prevention programs. And one factor that has been linked to the worldwide increase in liver diseases is the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity.
The study was published June 16 in the Journal of Hepatology.
The findings can't prove a cause-and-effect link, but do suggest "that the increased risk of a high BMI for the development of severe liver disease later in life is already present from an early age," Hagstrom said in a journal news release.
"It is possible that this increased risk is caused by a longer exposure to being overweight, compared to becoming overweight or obese later in life, and that individuals with a longer history of being overweight have an increased risk of severe liver disease," he explained.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Journal of Hepatology, news release, June 16, 2016