Why The New Obesity Guidelines For Kids Offer An Aggressive Approach

In the past, doctors treating childhood obesity have taken a wait-and-see approach, monitoring kids to see if they eventually outgrow it (via Associated Press). However, experts are now saying that this only allows the condition to worsen. For the first time in 15 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out new guidance on childhood obesity, and it takes a very vigorous approach.

Obesity in children is complex, meaning there's not just one cause or solution for the disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Rather than a lack of willpower or being lazy, obesity can be caused by poor nutrition, inactivity, socioeconomic factors, advertising, shared family behaviors, and hormone disorders can all impact a child's likelihood of becoming obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) in the 95th percentile of children of the same age and gender. However, it's important to note that BMI isn't always a good predictor of body fat and can be discriminatory, so health screenings may need to be more individualized (via Healthline).

Obesity can increase the risk of developing health conditions, like asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure (via Cleveland Clinic). It can also lead to bullying, low self-esteem, and depression in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects approximately 1 in 5 children, but these numbers are higher for children of color, affecting 25.6% of Hispanic children and 24.2% of non-Hispanic Black children.

More vigorous recommendations for treating obesity in children

While diet, exercise, and other behavioral interventions are still prescribed to children with obesity, the new guidance takes a more aggressive approach (via Associated Press). It recommends that some children classified as obese as young as 12 be given medication, while some children classified as severely obese (in the 120th percentile or higher) as young as 13 be treated with surgery. Dr. Sandra Hassink, a co-author of the guidelines, said that this approach may take the emphasis off of obesity being a personal responsibility, comparing it to getting an inhaler for asthma treatment. The guidance focuses on obesity being a biological disease, not a lifestyle problem.

However, some experts worry that this guidance may be misused. If doctors turn to medication or surgery too quickly, the root cause of obesity might not be addressed. Others say that the medication — a drug called Wegovy that impacts how the brain and gut work together to use energy — needs further research, and studies need to include more diverse participants. Since obesity is a complex disease, all children receiving treatment need individual evaluations that take all factors into consideration.