Dec. 13, 2023 – Children with obesity issues should undergo “comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions,” including supervised physical activity sessions for up to a year, a federal task force said. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – a team of independent, volunteer experts in disease prevention that guide doctors’ decisions and influence insurance coverage – issued a draft recommendation statement outlining the interventions that should be taken when a child or teen has a high body mass index. 

Nearly 20% of kids between 2 and 19 years old have what are considered high BMIs, according to CDC data. While adults who have a BMI of 30 or higher are considered to have obesity, childhood obesity is determined if a kid is at or above the 95th percentile of other kids their age and gender. 

Given the prevalence of the issue, the task force recommends behavioral interventions that include at least 26 hours of supervised physical activity sessions for up to a year. This differs from the task force’s previous recommendations on the topic, which emphasized the importance of screening for high BMIs rather than describing the right ways to intervene.

Some of the most effective interventions are targeted at both parents and their children: whether that be together, separately, or a combination of the two. Additionally, the task force recommends that kids attend group sessions about healthy eating habits, how to read food labels, and exercise techniques. Ideally, these would be led and guided by people of various professional backgrounds like pediatricians, physical therapists, dietitians, psychologists, and social workers. 

Other medical organizations, namely the American Academy of Pediatrics, have recommended medication for some children with obesity; the task force, however, takes a more conservative approach. They noted that although the body of evidence shows weight loss medications and surgery are effective for many, there isn’t enough research to lean on regarding the use of these interventions in children, especially in the long term. 

“There are proven ways that clinicians can help the many children and teens who have a high BMI to manage their weight and stay healthy,” says Katrina Donahue, MD, MPH, a member of the task force and a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Intensive behavioral interventions are effective in helping children achieve a healthy weight while improving quality of life.”

The guidelines are still in the draft stage and are available for public comment until Jan. 16, 2024. 

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