Children struggling with obesity should be treated early, including with medication and surgery, according to new US guidelines.
The first guidance on childhood obesity in 15 years was released by the American Academy of Paediatrics on Monday.
In it, doctors cautioned that delaying treatment for obesity can lead to lifelong health problems.
Nearly 15 million young people in the US are considered obese.
According to the guidelines, behavioural and lifestyle changes should be the first-line approach to combat childhood obesity, which is linked to serious health issues like type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.
But the guidelines also caution against delaying treatment in favour of waiting the problem out, suggesting for the first time ever that medication can be offered for kids as young as 12, and that weight loss surgery can be offered for those as young as 13.
“Waiting doesn’t work,” said Dr Ihuoma Eneli, co-author of the new guidance, told the Associated Press. “What we see is a continuation of weight gain and the likelihood that they’ll have (obesity) in adulthood.”
The guidelines encourage doctors to look at obesity more as a biological disease rather than a lifestyle problem, as research has shown that genetics and hormones can have an impact on weight.
They also promote a holistic approach to treatment, in which medications and surgery are offered when intensive behavioural treatment like lifestyle changes fail to work.
Several weight loss medications are available in the US, including the recently approved Wegovy – a weekly injection for children 12 and older which has been found to reduce body mass index, or BMI, in teenagers by 16% on average.
But doctors say the medications might be difficult to come by due to their cost and lack of insurance coverage. Some weight loss medications have also seen shortages in the US due to high demand.
Childhood obesity rates in the US have continued to rise over the past decade and a half, from 17% to 20%, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The US has a higher childhood obesity rate compared to the rest of North America and Europe.
Globally, the rates of childhood obesity are trending upwards.
A 2016 study from Syracuse University in New York estimates that there were 124 million children and teens in the world with obesity that year, compared to 11 million in 1975.
Source: BBC News