Treating Childhood Obesity: Effective Weight Loss Programs

Child obesity treatment differs from child to child, and depends largely on the child’s age and overall health. For most overweight kids, treatment focuses on changes to the child’s diet, and level of physical activity, and helping the child control his hunger. Since the food in the house is purchased mainly by an adult, a key part of treating children involves educating the entire family. The behavior of the child must change to affect his or her weight, but the eating behaviors of the family dictate the eating behaviors of the child. For this reason, the entire family must change to insure his or her success.

Doctors and families work together to establish solutions to childhood obesity. Parents must commit to actively engaging in a child weight loss program, assisting with everything from eating treatment to emotional support.

How Young is Too Young For Weight Loss?

Unfortunately, most of the overweight children in this country will not “grow out of it.” In fact, the probability of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood is estimated to be 20% at age 4 and 80% by adolescence . For this reason, the sooner you begin to work with a child, the better off they will be in the long run. At our clinic, we begin to follow children in the pre-school period.

Weight Loss in Young Children (less than 10 years old)

The earlier an overweight or obese child begins the weight loss process, the better the chance of his or her long term success. In young children, the goal of any weight loss program is to lose enough weight to move the child back into a healthy BMI range (preferably back to the 85% mark or less). Once that point is reached, the goal shifts to maintaining that weight as the child grows. The thinking behind this is that the child will continue to grow in height — not pounds. As the child grows, the BMI-for-age steadily moves toward a healthier range.

Steady weight loss is maintained through careful supervision of the child’s diet and level of physical activity. With young children, this involves effort on behalf of the parents or caregivers to offer healthy, nutritional meals and appropriate opportunities to exercise. Medications are typically not used in this age group, unless they have a nutritional deficiency (Vitamin D for example) or are found to have a chronic disease (such as hypothyroidism.)

Child Obesity Help for Children 10 and Older

Child obesity programs support steady weight loss, with goals established based on each child’s specific situation. Patients can begin at a less intensive stage and advance depending on responses to treatment, age, degree of obesity, health risks, and motivation.

When seeking childhood obesity help, parents and children work closely with a bariatric physician to adjust diet, medications (if needed) and physical activity. Success depends largely on the family’s commitment to helping the obese child. Again, the entire family must be willing to make changes to their diet and physical activity. Eating habits and exercise require equal, consistent focus in order for obese children develop a healthier weight.

Medications for Child Obesity Treatment

At an initial physical exam, a bariatric physician will typically perform blood work to look for both the causes and effects of obesity. Hypothyroidism, Insulin Resistance, and Familial Hypometabolism are just a few conditions that can lead to childhood obesity. In many of these conditions, medications are used to treat the underlying etiology.

Additionally, there are medical diseases resulting from obesity that may require medications to treat. The can include but are not limited to:

  • Hypertension
  • Gallstones
  • GERD (reflux)
  • High cholesterol
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Fatty Liver
  • Pre-diabetes
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Kidney Stones
  • Type II diabetes
  • Arthritis/Back Pain
  • Menstrual Problems
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Worsening Allergies/Asthma
  • Iron Deficiency

As bariatricians are typically the physicians of disease reversal, medications that are added for the above conditions tend to be used temporarily as a tool to protect the child in the short term, and help promote weight loss long term. When combined with exercise and behavioral and nutritional modifications, these medications can be an excellent adjunct to a successful weight loss program.

Specific Behavior Problems

It is worth noting that some specific eating behaviors (such as Binge Eating Disorder or Night Eating Syndrome) respond to specific, well studied medications. A bariatrician will usually work in conjunction with a behavioral therapist to determine appropriate medications needed for specific situations.

Appetite Suppressants

For older teens, whose growth cycle is completed, weight loss medications may be considered on a case-by-case basis by doctors well versed in childhood obesity treatments. Parents are encouraged to discuss all weight loss treatment options thoroughly with their child’s bariatric physician.