Children and teenagers should be screened for obesity at doctors' offices starting at age 6 and advised to attend intensive weight management programs if needed, according to a U.S.-government backed panel.
The recommendation, from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), reinforces the panel's previous guidelines.
The obesity rate among U.S. children in general is stable at about 17 percent but is still increasing among African American girls and Hispanic boys.
When are kids considered obese?
Children are considered obese if their body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of weight in relation to height, falls at or above the 95th percentile on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's growth charts. This means that the child's BMI is higher than 95 percent of other kids of the same age and sex.
Referring children and their families to comprehensive and intensive weight management programs, working with specialists over two to 12 months, resulted in weight loss, the
"How much time families spend in these programs matters. Intensive usually means a minimum of 26 hours which is required to see any beneficial effects.
The USPSTF also looked at the use of medications like metformin and orlistat among obese children for weight loss, but evidence was scarce and the panel could not make any recommendations.
Obstacles to treatment
While doctors can screen children and teens for obesity, families may not have access to the needed programs since insurers may not pay for those programs.
Plus, weight management programs for youth are not as widely available as they are for adults.
Some experts hope that such programs could someday be offered over telephone or televideo.
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