KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that doctors offer weight-loss drugs to children with obesity.
The lead author of the new guidelines works at Children’s Mercy Hospital and says kids with obesity need early intervention to prevent worse health problems later in life.
Doctors say the idea that all kids can overcome obesity through willpower alone is a myth.
Pediatricians are now urged to treat obesity as a chronic disease.
A video produced by Children’s Mercy shows a 17-year-old named Lane. He’s the first teen to receive bariatric surgery at the hospital, going from 425 pounds to just more than 200 pounds, a dramatic change he says he couldn’t have done by himself.
“I can’t really express the gratitude and thanks I have for every single person who has been there through this whole thing,” Lane said.
The new guidelines say doctors should consider bariatric surgery for teens with extreme obesity, in combination with intensive lifestyle and behavior counseling.
“It’s definitely easier to help prevent extra weight gain at an earlier age than it is to treat obesity as the child ages,” said Dr. Sarah Hampl, professor of pediatrics at the hospital and lead author of the new guidelines. “We want to prevent extra weight gain and the complications that can result.”
At KC Bariatric in Lenexa, Kan., doctors perform about 1,700 weight loss surgeries a year.
The medical director calls the change in guidelines for adolescents long overdue.
“We believe offering this to adolescents has been very important,” said Dr. Stan Hoehn, a bariatric surgeon. “We’ve done this personally inside our practice for over 16 years. We’ve been operating on adolescents as young as 14 or 15. And we think we are heading off a tremendous amount of disease along with all the other social challenges that come with carrying weight.”
About one out of five American children are living with obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doctors say one of the biggest hurdles to treating obesity is getting insurance to cover it. Weight loss drugs alone can cost between $1,300 to $1,500 dollars a month.