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American Academy of Pediatrics recommends medication, surgery to treat extreme cases of childhood obesity

More than 14.4 million U.S. children and teens are obese, AAP says in new guidelines
File photo of a scale at a pediatrician's office.jpg
Posted at 8:44 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 20:46:24-05

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Medication and even possible surgery are now some of the recommendations to tackle childhood obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines for the first time in 15 years to address the issue that impacts more than 14 million kids and teenagers across the country.

Physical education class is always moving at Allamanda Elementary School. The Palm Beach Gardens school is the only one in Palm Beach County designated as a health and wellness campus.

"The students are learning how to make healthy choices. They are learning about portion sizes. And most importantly, they are learning how to have an active lifestyle," principal Corey Ferrera said.

Speaking to WPTV in the "Zen zone" on Monday, Ferrera said everything the school does focuses on educating the whole child.

"It's not just academics, but their physical wellness, social-emotional wellness," Ferrera said. "I think our kids are very active."

But childhood obesity is a growing concern for doctors. It's defined as a child with a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile, and prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to release new guidance for how to treat it.

When lifestyle changes or not effective, the AAP is now recommending medication or even surgery for the most extreme cases of childhood obesity.

"As a pediatrician, we really haven't seen a lot of strong recommendations for bariatric surgery in the past, so the fact that they are now telling pediatricians to consider this for appropriate patients 13 and older is a big surprise," said HCA Florida Palms West Hospital pediatrician Dr. Andrea Horbey.

Horbey said that while the recommendation comes with a bit of shock, it's important to know it is not for everyone and would likely involve children with other underlying health issues.

"Surgery is definitely not the first line recommendation," Horbey said. "The first line recommendation that has a lot of research to support it is over 26 hours of intense lifestyle, behavior treatment."

In addition to the physical activity, Allamanda Elementary School is also steering student incentives away from food.

"A kickball game, pajama day. We're doing a movie for the students in the lunchroom. We're trying to incorporate more healthier options as rewards for students, instead of rewarding them with food or treats or the sugary snacks, pizza parties," said Samantha Kirby, the school's health and wellness coordinator.

With a healthy mind, body, and spirit as the ultimate goal.

"We know that physical activity has an effect on children's mental health as well," Kirby said. "Just being able to incorporate as many healthy opportunities as possible for these students helps them be more successful in school."

The new guidelines also stress not waiting to start treatment if a child is obese.

Horbey said if you have any concerns as a parent, start the conversation with your pediatrician.

Allamanda Elementary School will host a 5K race on May 21 to kick off the summer. For more information and to register, click here.