About This Condition
Excessive weight in children and adolescents is becoming an increasingly serious problem.1,2 In the United States, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are overweight, and among adolescents the percentage is three times higher than it was 20 years ago.3 Major contributors to childhood obesity include genetics, unhealthy diets, and sedentary lifestyles.4,5 Overweight children often become adults with weight problems that contribute to a wide variety of health problems,6,7 but even during childhood and adolescence, overweight can contribute to such disorders as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and liver disease.8,9,10 Being overweight also has social and psychological consequences for children in terms of social discrimination, poor self-esteem, and depression.11,12
Parents, family members, and others who are important people in a child’s life can either help or harm an obese child’s situation. As with all children, those with weight problems need acceptance, support, and encouragement from their family, and the eating, exercising, and other health habits of family members play important roles in influencing the same behaviors in children.13,14
The proper weight for a growing child or adolescent should be determined with the help of a doctor or other qualified health professional, who can also determine whether any unusual medical problems might be contributing to weight gain, whether any current health problems exist that are related to overweight, and appropriate weight control methods. Treating obesity should not include overly restrictive or fad diets that are missing essential nutrients. In fact, weight loss is not necessarily appropriate for a growing child. Often the best goal for an overweight child is to maintain their current weight as they grow taller.
Treatment for childhood obesity involves screening for heart disease risk and other health risk factors, and providing information on improving diet and exercise habits. No medications are approved for treating childhood obesity.15