NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Weight loss medications or surgery for a 13-year-old may seem extreme, but they are part of a new set of recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for children struggling with obesity.
The guidelines published earlier this week mark the first comprehensive changes to the AAP’s obesity guidelines in 15 years, outlining treatment options for children as young as 2 amid a push for doctors to take a more prominent role in the growing obesity epidemic.
Dr. Ashley Shoemaker, an assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, helped in the research of one of the five drugs now approved to help treat childhood obesity.
“What we have realized is that our efforts at identifying at-risk children, and then trying to intervene with real lifestyle changes, more guidance, more emphasis on diet, nutrition, physical activities, working with schools, that none of those things have really worked, and that we’re still seeing those same rates of obesity, that, if anything, are increasing,” she explained.
It’s an eye-opener for most parents. Approximately 15 million children in the United States step onto scales with weights considered obese, sometimes carrying that burden into their adult life.
However, it’s not just the weight physicians are concerned about. Young children are being diagnosed with adult diseases, including an increase in Type 2 Diabetes.
“The thing that we really worry about, particularly with Type 2 Diabetes, is the long-term complications, things like kidney problems, eye problems, you hear about people having circulation problems where they lose a limb or they go blind or end up on dialysis or something,” Shoemaker said. “Those can happen 10 years after a diagnosis of diabetes, so if we’re diagnosing someone at 12, now we’re talking about someone potentially in their 20s that’s having really significant medical problems.”
The new guidance from AAP means pediatricians will now consider prescribing weight loss medications as young as 12, as well as suggest bariatric surgery to a very small percentage of patients as young as 13 to shrink the stomach and limit the amount of food a person can comfortably consume.
“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘if you just ate healthy and you moved around more, you wouldn’t struggle with this.’ That’s just become really obvious in pediatrics,” said Shoemaker. “What we’ve learned is that it really is a chronic disease and it’s very multi-factorial.”
The COVID-19 pandemic fed destructive behaviors of inactivity and unhealthy eating, so parents are encouraged to focus on a healthy future for themselves and their children in addition to exploring these treatment options.