The continuing rise of obesity in the United States is projected to increase the number of people waiting for a liver transplant due to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in the future.

Publishing their findings in the journal Hepatology, researchers led by Neehar Parikh, MD, of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Michigan, analyzed 2000 to 2014 data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network database to determine the number of NASH-related liver transplant waiting list additions each year.

Over time, fat accumulation in the liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and its more severe form, NASH) can lead to cirrhosis (scarring), liver cancer and end-stage liver failure, prompting the need for a transplant. hepatitis C virus (HCV) and heavy alcohol use are the leading drivers of  liver transplantation in the United States, but NASH is a growing cause—in part because of rising obesity rates.

The investigators estimated the obese population in the United States between 2000 and 2014 through data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

During this period, the obese population increased by an estimated 44.9% while the number of annual new additions to the liver transplant waiting list related to NASH increased 5.1-fold, from 391 in 2000 to 1,605 in 2014.

Given that the obese population is expected to continue to increase and that there is an apparent nine-year lag between an increase in that population and its association with greater numbers of new NASH-related additions to the liver transplant waiting list, the latter figure is expected to increase by 55.4% between 2016 and 2030.

“Continued public health efforts to curb obesity prevalence are needed to reduce the projected future burden of NASH,” the study authors concluded.

To read the study abstract, click here.