AAP Guidelines Seek to Combat Childhood Obesity At-Risk of Stigma
Childhood obesity is a growing public health crisis, with more than 14 million children and teens affected in the United States alone. To combat this epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for the treatment of childhood obesity.
The new guidelines recommend that physicians consider medications and even bariatric surgery for the treatment of severe obesity in children over 12 and 13, respectively. While these steps can be effective in treating obesity, experts warn that classifying obesity as a “disease” can lead to stigma, which can be damaging for children.
The guidelines also recommend that pediatricians and child health care providers pay close attention to body mass index (BMI). The CDC adjusted its BMI scale due to increased obesity prevalence in children, extending the scale up to 60.
Policy factors like the advertisement of unhealthy foods, inadequate resources in certain communities, and lack of access to food can all lead to childhood obesity. In addition, certain home factors, personal health decisions, or certain diagnoses can increase the likelihood of obesity.
Dr. Kim Dennis, a certified eating disorder specialist and co-founder of SunCloud Health, cautions that telling children as young as 6 or 8 that they have a “disease” simply based on their weight status can do significant harm. To avoid this, Dr. Dennis recommends introducing vegetables and movement that children enjoy and eating meals together as a family.
Dr. Sarah Hampl, an author of the new guidelines and a pediatrician at Children's Mercy Kansas City, recommends supervised obesity treatment programs to reduce the risk of disordered eating in children, as opposed to youth trying to do it on their own.
Unfortunately, many people's insurance won't cover the cost of these treatments and access to these programs is limited, especially for racially and socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Nevertheless, supporters of the new guidance argue that treating obesity as a disease will help to destigmatize it and encourage earlier action to stave off more serious health issues down the road.
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