New guidelines for obesity in kids

The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids as young as 12 with obesity can be offered medical treatments, in addition to diet and exercise.

A leading group of pediatric physicians is calling for a more aggressive approach to treating children struggling with obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines Jan. 9. In addition to encouraging proper diet and exercise, the AAP also said that medications for obese kids as young as 12 and surgery for those as young as 13 may be appropriate treatments.

“We’re learning more and more that body size isn’t always something we have complete control over,” said Heather M. Felton, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Proper eating, exercise and sleeping habits are still the go-to treatments, but these recommendations are opening up additional options to help support these habits.”

Young people who have a body mass index that meets or exceeds the 95th percentile for kids of the same age and gender are considered obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of kids and teens in the U.S. fit that category. According to doctors, children with obesity are at a higher risk for conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and depression.

According to Dr. Felton, the AAP recommendations are designed to take a more proactive approach to reversing obesity.

“What we’ve done over the years is watched, waited and hoped that these issues would resolve over time,” she said. “We’ve found it doesn’t always happen, and in many cases these issues in youth turn into bigger issues during adulthood. The AAP is recommending to be more aggressive in therapies that can help with weight loss and manage the other side effects associated with obesity.”

Among the recommendations:

  • Children 6 years and older can receive monthly behavioral therapy to help them make long-lasting health changes.
  • Teens may be eligible for weight loss medications along with continued diet and exercise.
  • For teens with severe obesity, weight loss surgery is a potential option.

If parents have questions, Dr. Felton recommends they talk to their child’s pediatrician.

“Your pediatrician is on your team and there to work with you,” Dr. Felton said. “If your child is struggling with weight, it’s important to start or continue the conversation.”

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