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The Pandemic Diet: How COVID-19 Is Accelerating the Risk of Fatty Liver Disease

Did you turn to comfort food and cocktails during the pandemic? Well, you are not alone.

According to the American Psychological Association’s survey of US adults in February 2021, the majority of adults (61 per cent) experienced undesired weight changes – weight gain or loss – since the pandemic started, with 42 per cent reporting they gained more weight than they intended. Of those, they gained an average of 29 pounds and 10 per cent said they gained more than 50 pounds, the poll found. In addition, nearly 1 in 4 adults (23 per cent) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.

Weight gain and excessive drinking can increase the risk for liver disease and a host of other health problems. While the epidemic of fatty liver disease existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic – with 1 in 3 Americans affected by the disease, the rise in obesity and alcohol consumption now makes this a cause for even greater concern.

Dr. Raymond Chung, Director of Hepatology and Liver Center Medical Director at Massachusetts General Medicine and president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) told Good Morning America in early April that his institution and others across the country are reporting 30-50 per cent increases in the number of hospitalizations and deaths caused by alcohol-related liver disease over the past year.

In short, the pandemic diet is taking a toll on our livers. Making matters worse is that there is extremely low public awareness of liver health. For example, several studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of the general population has little knowledge of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), and that NAFLD is not a topic of discussion by their primary care provider.

The good news is that if detected early, liver disease can be reversed. Weight loss is the single best thing your patients can do to control or reverse fatty liver disease. By incorporating a healthier diet and increased physical activity, they can reduce the buildup of fat in their liver.

Providers have an important role to play in not only raising awareness of liver disease among patients, but also detecting liver disease early. Through non-invasive tests like Velacur, there’s now a practical way to assess and manage millions of patients for fatty liver disease, and provide both patients and providers with immediate results to take action.

Knowing their liver numbers (amount of liver fat and fibrosis) will motivate patients to think about their lifestyle, diet and exercise, and this can have a profound psychological effect on their decision making.