COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Oct. 16, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A groundbreaking new study, presented today at UEG Week 2023, has discovered a significant connection between birthweight and the onset of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, now known as metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), in young people.

Notably, babies with a low birthweight were found to be four times more likely to develop MASLD in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood.

Researchers conducted a population-based case-control study of all people aged 25 years and younger, who had been diagnosed with MASLD between January 1992 and April 2017, totalling 165 cases. Each individual with MASLD was matched with up to five controls from the general population based on age, sex, calendar year and county of residence.

Individuals born with a low birthweight (<2500 g/5 lbs 8 oz) were four times more likely to develop MASLD when compared with those born with normal birthweight. Those born as small for gestational age (SGA), falling below the 10th percentile, were also over three times more likely to develop MASLD early in life compared with those with an adequate (10th–90th) birthweight.

In addition, the researchers found that individuals with a low birthweight, or those born as SGA, had an up to ~6-fold higher relative risk of developing more severe stages of MASLD in the form of liver fibrosis or cirrhosis.

Dr Fahim Ebrahimi, first author of the study, comments, “While previous research has established the link between birthweight and major diseases, the connection to MASLD remained unclear. Our study now provides compelling evidence that foetal developmental factors play a significant role in the development of MASLD and progressive liver disease.”

Amidst escalating rates of obesity, MASLD has become the most common cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. In Europe alone, it is estimated to affect over 25% of adults, and its prevalence is increasing.

Dr Ebrahimi adds, “It is deeply concerning that individuals born with a low birthweight face a heightened relative risk of this disease at a young age, as early-onset MASLD often persists into adulthood and has been associated with an increased risk of developing cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease. It is important that we develop proactive and effective strategies to identify at-risk individuals and help reduce the burden of this disease.”

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