DOI: 10.1002/jpn3.12040 ISSN: 0277-2116

Alanine aminotransferase cutoffs for the pediatric fatty liver disease: Major impact of the reference population

Linnea Aitokari, Siiri Lahti, Laura Kivelä, Hanna Riekki, Pauliina Hiltunen, Nina Vuorela, Anna Viitasalo, Sonja Soininen, Heini Huhtala, Timo Lakka, Kalle Kurppa
  • Gastroenterology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health


Objectives and Study

The often‐recommended alanine aminotransferase (ALT) cutoffs (girls 21 U/l, boys 25 U/l) are based on a NHANES cohort. A novel concept of metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD) emphasizes the role of ALT. We tested the prevalence of increased ALT and MASLD in children with overweight or obesity applying population‐based and NHANES‐based cut‐offs.


Six‐ to seventeen‐year‐old children underwent data collection in a prospective Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) study. ALT 95th percentiles were calculated from 1167 separate measurements considering various confounders. Test cohort comprised 1044 children with overweight/obesity.


ALT values increased at puberty onset (p = 0.031) and correlated negatively with age in girls (r = −0.222, p < 0.001). Particularly overall and central obesity increased ALT, whereas underweight or metabolic abnormalities had smaller effect. After applying the tested exclusions, the age‐related ALT 95th percentiles were 24–29 U/l for girls and 29–32 U/l for boys. In 6–8‐year‐old children with overweight/obesity, the prevalence of increased ALT and MASLD were 21.6% and 2.4% with age‐specific PANIC cutoffs. In older children, when NHANES‐based cutoffs were used, there was a trend for higher prevalence of increased ALT and MASLD in all age groups for both sexes, reaching significance for increased ALT in 12–16‐year‐old boys (NHANES 63.5%, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 56.4%–70.0% vs. PANIC 47.1%, 95% CI [40.1%–54.2%]) and 9–11‐year‐old girls (60.0% [49.4%–69.8%] vs. 31.8% [22.8%–42.3%]), respectively. Increased ALT/MASLD were more common in boys than in girls, and in boys these increased with age, whereas in girls these peaked at age 9–12 years.


A reference population impacts on the prevalence of increased ALT and MASLD. Considering this help optimizing screening while avoiding unnecessary investigations and surveillance. The prospective part of this study is registered in; identifier NCT01803776.

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