New Pediatric Guidelines Highlight Medication, Potential Surgery, For Childhood Obesity
Hand adjusting weight scales - stock photo Tetra Images via Getty Images
Tetra Images via Getty Images

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published new guidelines on Monday highlighting that childhood obesity can sometimes be addressed with medication and surgery.

An executive summary of the guidance noted that pediatricians and other primary health care providers should offer children 12 years old and up — who are obese — medication for weight loss. It also said that they should offer referrals for teenagers who are 13 years of age and older and have severe obesity to be evaluated “for metabolic and bariatric surgery.”

The guidelines are the first comprehensive outline to be put forward by the AAP in 15 years. 

“Weight is a sensitive topic for most of us, and children and teens are especially aware of the harsh and unfair stigma that comes with being affected by it,” Sarah Hampl, MD, a lead author of the guidance, said. 

An AAP statement that has yet to be released will talk about obesity prevention, as that is not outlined in the new guidance. 

“There is no evidence that ‘watchful waiting’ or delayed treatment is appropriate for children with obesity,” Sandra Hassink, MD, an author of the guidance, also said. “The goal is to help patients make changes in lifestyle, behaviors or environment in a way that is sustainable and involves families in decision-making at every step of the way.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2017 to 2020, 19.7% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 were obese, amounting to around 14.7 million kids and teens. 

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the forced massive school shutdowns that accompanied it, continue to be felt by children across the United States. It had a negative effect on childhood obesity, as well. A CDC study from 2021 showed that the body mass index rate increase “approximately doubled during the pandemic” compared to a time before the pandemic for the same age group. Those who were already overweight or obese prior to the pandemic, as well as young kids, saw the biggest spikes. 

“We now have evidence that obesity therapy is effective. There is treatment, and now is the time to recognize that obesity is a chronic disease and should be addressed as we address other chronic diseases,” Hassink noted. 

“Obesity is not a lifestyle problem. It is not a lifestyle disease,” Aaron Kelly, co-director at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, noted. “It predominately emerges from biological factors.”

“This is not different than you have asthma and now we have an inhaler for you,” Hassink noted.

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