US experts are now recommending weight-loss drugs and surgeries for obese children.
Early use of medication and surgeries alongside behaviour therapy and lifestyle modifications for some children are now recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The newly updated guidelines for treating obesity in children, released on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, now push for the use of medications for kids as young as 12 and surgery for those as young as 13. They also offer recommendations for the care of kids as young as 2 years old and up until adolescence.
According to research, the traditional method of “watchful waiting,” which involves delaying treatment until children and teens have outgrown or overcome their obesity, only makes the issue, which affects more than 14.4 million young people in the US, ‘worse.’
What is obesity?
According to one of the most recent estimates, there are 500 million obese adults worldwide. Such a phenomenon is caused by the imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure.
Obesity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher. It is, according to the organisation, a visible health problem that has only recently gained attention in the last 10 to 15 years.
Obesity in Qatar
Adult obesity in Qatar is 33%, according to a 2016 study by Statista, placing the Gulf nation third in the MENA region, right after Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is considered one of the major issues the country faces, and efforts have been made to try and tackle the issue.
Being overweight increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular, cerebral, and respiratory diseases as well as osteoarthritis, various cancers, and breathing problems.
Around the region, there is a growing concern about obesity and the subsequent illnesses it causes as well as the factors that contribute to it, such as alterations in social and cultural environments, education, physical activity, diet, and nutrition.
“Waiting doesn’t work,” said Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, co-author of the first guidance on childhood obesity in 15 years from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “What we see is a continuation of weight gain and the likelihood that they’ll have (obesity) in adulthood.”
In a 2018 study of 164,963 school children aged between the ages of 5 to 19, the overall prevalence of overweight and obesity stood at 21.2% and 21.5%, respectively.
Some of the risk factors that may have contributed to overweight and obesity are listed in the Global School-Based Student Health Survey- Qatar 2011 for students aged between 13 to 15 years, a 2017 publication detailed.
According to the survey, on average, 55.4% of girls and 43.6% of boys spend three or more hours per day doing activities that require sitting down.
In a span of 30 days, 62.5% of students drank carbonated soft drinks at least once a day (60.0% of boys, 64.8% of girls).
Only 15% of respondents to the poll reported being physically active enough.
Is it safe?
In addition to intensive diet, exercise, and other behaviour and lifestyle interventions, the group’s recommendations for the first time set ages at which children and teens should be given medical treatments like drugs and surgery, according to Eneli, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Although there may be exceptions, generally speaking, doctors should refer obese adolescents aged 12 and older to the appropriate medications and severely obese adolescents aged 13 and older to weight-loss surgery.
Though it can lead to complications, experts have said that if done correctly, it could potentially be life-changing. However, Maha El Akoum, Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH], said that such measures should be approached with caution due to the associated risks and complications.
“Obesity is complex. Genetic, physiologic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors all play a role and, as such, there are multiple ways in which we can intervene at different levels in order to ensure that our children lead healthy, long lives,” Al Akoum said.
“They should only be considered when lifestyle changes have been proven ineffective. Prevention strategies backed up by public policies should always be the first line of defence against childhood obesity.”
The AAP Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight’s medical director and a co-author of the guidelines, Dr. Sandra Hassink, said the goals of the guidelines are to correct the false perception that obesity is “a personal problem, possibly a failure of the person’s diligence.”
Despite the experts’ recommendations, several have jumped to question the latest guidelines, dubbed ‘extreme’ and ‘dangerous’ measures for children.
Some have called on experts to encourage physical activity and outdoor activities or dietary chance instead.
“Just like climate change issues, the food industry needs to be overhauled completely. Otherwise, the problem will soon be epidemic, leaving numerous adults incapable of even working with extensive health problems including diabetes,” a user tweeted.
“Obesity is a massive issue in America but medicating and forcing children into surgery is hardly the solution. Teaching children to workout and eat healthier will result in an actual long-term solution. Americans are starting to rely on half measures too much,” another said.