For the first time in 15 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidance on recommendations and early intervention for children with obesity.
According to a new study, children as young as 12 should have access to medication, while surgery should be an option for kids 13 and older. These ideas run counter to the traditional "wait and see" approach that has been used for many years.
"Waiting doesn't work," said Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, co-author of the study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the AP. "What we see is a continuation of weight gain and the likelihood that they'll have (obesity) in adulthood."
According to the CDC, nearly 20% of young people in the United States are obese. The AAP researchers aimed to disprove the notion that obesity is a personal failure on the part of the patient, asserting instead that the condition has more to do with genetics.
"Obesity is not a lifestyle problem," Aaron Kelly, co-director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota, told the outlet. "It is not a lifestyle disease," he said. "It predominately emerges from biological factors."
Co-authors of the study say obesity is a "chronic disease" that "should be treated with intensive and long-term care strategies." These strategies include lifestyle and behavioral changes. But some young patients need more help. While medication and surgery were formerly considered for only older patients, experts say that earlier intervention is key to stopping the crisis.
One such treatment is medication that was approved by the FDA last month.
Wegovy is a weekly injection made by Novo Nordisk that is used for patients ages 12 and older. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the drug helped teens reduce their BMI by about 16% on average — a higher rate than in adults who take the medicine.
The new guidelines provide promising outcomes for the estimated 14.4 million young people who suffer from obesity. But doctors still stress diet and exercise.
"It's not that I'm against the medications," Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinology specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the AP. "I'm against the willy-nilly use of those medications without addressing the cause of the problem."
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Instead, Lustig said attention to a diet — one that counteracts highly processed, low-fiber foods which play a prominent role for those who struggle with their weight — should also play a role in treatment.