The liver and the waistline: Fifty years of growth


  • Geoffrey C Farrell

    Corresponding author
    1. Australian National University Medical School, Canberra, Australia, and
    2. Gastroenterology and Hepatology Unit, The Canberra Hospital, Garran, ACT, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Conflict of interest
    No conflict of interest has been declared by the authors.

Professor Geoffrey Farrell, Gastroenterology and Hepatology Unit, The Canberra Hospital, Yamba Drive, Garran, ACT 2605, Australia. Email:


Fifty years of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia have witnessed the changing appearance of Australians. Asian immigration has transformed the dominant urban culture from European to Eurasian, with some unique Australian attributes. Meanwhile, global conditions have altered body shape, and our sports-proud country is now fat! Thus, as in North America, Europe, China, and affluent Asia–Pacific countries, prosperity and lifestyle, cheap processed foods coupled with reduced physical activity have created an epidemic of over-nutrition resulting in overweight/obesity. Additional genetic factors are at the core of the apple shape (central obesity) that typifies over-nourished persons with metabolic syndrome. Indigenous Australians, once the leanest and fittest humans, now have exceedingly high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, contributing to shorter life expectancy; Asian Australians are also at higher risk. Like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cigarette smoking, obesity now contributes much to gastrointestinal morbidity and mortality (gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancers, gallstones, endoscopy complications). This review focuses on Australian research about fatty liver, particularly roles of central obesity/insulin resistance in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease/steatohepatitis (NAFLD/NASH). The outputs include many highly cited original articles and reviews and the first book on NAFLD. Studies have identified community prevalence, clinical outcomes, association with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and hypoadiponectinemia, developed and explored animal models for mechanisms of inflammation and fibrosis, conceptualized etiopathogenesis, and demonstrated that NASH can be reversed by lowering body weight and increasing physical activity. The findings have led to development of regional guidelines on NAFLD, the first internationally, and should now inform daily practice of gastroenterologists.