The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed group of experts, already recommends that children 6 and older be screened for obesity during routine checkups. With 17% of children in the U.S. now considered obese and nearly two thirds qualifying as overweight, checking to see where children fall on the obesity scale is critical.
Now, in the latest report from the task force, the group also provides added information about the important next step: the most effective ways to help children drop pounds. The group found that behavioral programs, which include individual and family therapy sessions focused on diet, exercise, and portion control have the greatest effect on weight loss.
While one drug has been approved in children to treat obesity, orlistat, and another, metformin, which used to treat diabetes, is sometimes used for weight control, the evidence doesn’t yet support routine use of any medications to help children lose weight.
Eating and exercise habits that contribute to weight gain don’t develop overnight, so “changing behaviors is hard,” says Dr. Alex Kemper, professor of pediatrics at Duke University and member of the task force. “It takes time to be able to incorporate them. It’s also important to recognize that children live within the context of families, so encouraging families in this behavior change is important as well. It’s not surprising that it takes a good amount of time to get benefit.”
The problem is that such comprehensive programs aren’t always available. It’s easier for physicians to write a prescription than to help patients find a counseling program that is both convenient and affordable for them. “It’s clear from looking at the evidence that these comprehensive programs are the most effective,” he says. “The task force hopes that by making that known, the availability of these programs increases.”
The group’s recommendation is available on its website in draft form, and will be open for public comment until Nov. 28.