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Parents should expect more conversations, treatment options for kids with obesity after new guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines and treatment options this week for kids diagnosed with obesity. It is something that federal health officials report has doubled over the last 30 years in young children.

The comprehensive list of strategies stresses early interventions.

"Pediatricians across the country have been waiting for this for a very long time," said Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group La Costa. "There was always lots of ideas or thoughts or discussions, but never this level of evidence to support our decision making."

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Muth is also a spokesperson for the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Prior guidelines for treating childhood obesity relied on a "wait and see" approach, Muth said.

"We know now that is not what we need to be doing," she said. "We need to be acting and intervening immediately when we identify that a child has obesity, as young as two."

The guidelines point out early childhood obesity can be an early indicator of trends that could continue into adulthood. Treatments can vary depending on age.

"What are the behavioral type things too," Muth said. "What does an intensive lifestyle intervention look like? What works in really helping to provide families with the support around nutrition, activity, sleep, screen use, social-emotional wellness? All these different components that fit together."

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Other recommendations for teens include the potential use of obesity medications and there is more evidence that surgery could be a helpful option for those severely impacted, but that is not for every child and things like genetics do come into play.

"Nutrition and exercise and lifestyle parameters can go a tremendous way to preventing obesity," said Rady Children's Hospital's Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer.

Schwimmer leads Rady's Weight and Wellness Center. He said parents should expect their kids to be screened for health conditions caused or made worse by obesity.

"Parents can anticipate that their children are more likely to have screenings for these health conditions — diabetes, liver disease, high cholesterol at age 9 or 10," he said. "For specialists I anticipate what it means that as busy as we are now — we’ll be even busier. There’s a lot of work to be done."

It remains unclear how insurance companies will react to these recommendations in their coverage plans.