Family Health Guide

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Childhood Obesity: Treatment

Many of the healthy behaviors that prevent obesity are also used as treatment. Depending on your child’s age and co-existing medical conditions, treatment for childhood obesity typically focuses on dietary changes and improvements in physical activity levels. In more advanced cases, medications or weight-loss surgery may be recommended.

For children under age 7 with no other health concerns, treatment usually focuses on weight maintenance rather than loss, which allows the child to essentially “grow into” their weight, adding inches in height but not pounds. The result: Their BMI will drop into a healthier range. For children older than age 7, weight loss may be recommended, particularly if the child has developed a weight-related health issue. As in adult weight loss, children should aim for slow, steady weight loss of anywhere from one pound a week to one pound a month. Your doctor will help you and your child set a goal.

In the case of severe obesity, some adolescents may benefit from weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) when traditional weight loss methods have failed. Many doctors will only recommend this option if your child's weight poses a greater threat to his or her health than the potential risks of surgery. Long-term effects of weight loss surgery on a child's future growth and development remain largely unknown, and any type of surgery carries potential risks. It also does not guarantee weight loss. Be sure to surround yourself with a team of experts, including a pediatric bariatric surgeon, a pediatric endocrinologist, a psychologist and a nutritionist, if you are considering this option.