Obese Children Need to be Screened, Referred to Weight-Management Programs

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The Preventive Services Task Force which makes medical-care recommendations based on the latest research has stated that medical professionals warn that children 6 and older should be screened for obesity and be referred to comprehensive weight-management programs.

The team reviewed dozens studies and concluded that obese children who were involved in moderate to high weight-management programs for 25 or more hours over a six-month period could show improvements in their weight. Some of these programs include direction from dietitians, psychologists, exercise trainers and physicians.

The problem seems to be that there are not enough weight-management programs for parents to get their children involved with and it appears it is not a benefit most insurance companies care to pay for. Ned Calonge, chairman of task force and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "But now that there is evidence of effectiveness and this new recommendation — that may change."

Government statistics show that 32% of children and adolescents are obese or overweight and almost 20% of kids ages 6 to 11 and 18% of those ages 12 to 19 are obese. It is important to remember that obese children are at a greater risk of health problems that are related to their obesity such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. These children also run a large risk of becoming obese as adults.

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Today’s children are thought to be overweight if they fall between the 85th and 94th percentile on body-mass index growth charts. Medical personal who work with overweight kids believe that this currently recommendation is way overdue and that even more options are needed.

"There are millions of obese kids but probably only several hundred centers nationwide offering quality programs that meet the standards outlined in these recommendations," says Melinda Sothern, director of pediatric obesity research at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. "Most of these are affiliated with universities or big hospitals. The programs are expensive if delivered by professionals, but they are less expensive than bariatric surgery later during adolescence."

She also believes that caregivers and parents need to carefully look at programs to be certain that professionals are educated and trained to work with obese children. "What works for adults doesn't necessarily work for kids. They have developmental nutritional needs, and exercise has to be fun for them. It can't be a boot-camp mentality."

"Part of the problem is that where there are obese children, there are often obese parents," says Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He believes parents must be involved if they want change to not only happen, but last. "Parents often have to take a hard look at their own eating styles and how they may have morphed into less-than-healthy role models." If the entire family makes improvements, the payoff is huge, Ayoob says. "A whole family can get healthier when one child does."

Pediatrician Sandra Hassink, A chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Obesity Leadership Work Group states, "If a child is obese, parents need to get the child to the doctor to identify weight-related medical conditions such as sleep apnea, diabetes, liver disease, hip and knee problems and depression."

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