EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU)— The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released an update to its childhood obesity guidelines, the first update in 15 years.

Pediatricians now have new instructions when it comes to treating children with obesity.

Instead of a ‘watch and wait’ approach, doctors are encouraged to prescribe medications, even surgery for obese kids.

A local pediatrician Eyewitness News spoke with agrees with the updated guidelines and says it’s about time the childhood disease is taken more seriously.

14.4 million children in the U.S. are affected by childhood obesity, which has become one of the most common chronic illnesses in children. Obesity is defined as a body mass index, or BMI, at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Dr. Jennifer Hosterman, a pediatrician specializing in childhood obesity at Geisinger did not work on the new guidelines, but applauds the update.

“It’s about time we have more comprehensive guidelines and start treating these adolescents more intensely and take this disease more seriously,” said Dr. Hosterman.

AAP guidelines include intense behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, medications, bariatric surgery.

And Dr. Hosterman says the AAP guidelines are structured to prevent lifelong morbidities due to obesity. Instead of taking a ‘watch and watch’ approach, treatments for obese children now include intense behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, medications, and even surgery for teens 13 and older.

“These kids are typically in the higher range of obesity and some of the severest of cases they often have more adult-related conditions, and if we let that disease process unfold and maybe they are a 15-year-old patient then their bodies have already been affected by those diseases and those their bodies have progressed so we’re treating those kids now,” Dr. Hostman added.

And children who suffer from severe obesity are not prescribed medications or chosen for bariatric surgery without a rigorous assessment.

“Our program is six to eight months in length, during that time we’re doing diet and exercise, were using anti-obesity pharmacy therapy, were doing rigorous evaluation in terms of behavioral management, we’re really vetting them to make sure they are a right fit,” Dr. Hostman continued.

And surgery was the right fit for a 15-year-old, female Geisinger patient. Dr. Hosterman supervised the first adolescent bariatric surgery in 2021 that proved successful.

“Which is amazing to take a kid who was on medication and now only has to take vitamins and feels more energetic, more confident with more stamina, and better health,” Dr. Hostman explained.

The new guidelines are designed for healthcare providers, but Dr. Hosterman says parents
should talk with their children’s pediatrician if there are concerns about weight, and discuss
ways to improve health and observe changes.

It’s also important to not stigmatize the child or make them feel bad about their body, but rather
empower them with the tools needed to keep them healthy over time.

Here are a few important tips on what to do if you’re a parent concerned with your child’s weight.

Where can parents turn if they are concerned about their child’s weight?

  • If they are concerned, they should start by talking to your pediatrician.
  • They will do a health assessment, determine the risks, and help to start outlining a plan.
  • You can also refer the child to a dietitian, specialist (if assessment yields concern for other risks… i.e. cardiology team for concerns of high blood pressure), and/or an obesity medicine specialist.
  • In the meantime, you can visit helpful websites like HealthyChildren.org to see how you can make healthy changes at home, now. 

What tips you may have for kids who suffer from obesity and are not achieving weight loss success?

  • Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss.  
  • If they have weight-related medical conditions or their weight is very elevated, then they should seek out an obesity medicine specialist or pediatric weight management team sooner than later.
  • Geisinger’s pediatric weight management program includes Obesity Medicine physicians and dietitians who specialize in evaluating and treating children and adolescents with overweight or obesity.