AAP childhood obesity guidelines on surgery, treatment draw scrutiny

USA News

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends early and proactive treatment for children who have obesity, including surgery or weight loss drugs.
  • The guidance has drawn scrutiny from advocates who say it contributes to weight stigma and could fuel disordered eating.
  • They also argue it’s impossible to know the long-term effects of these weight loss interventions on young children.

Faith Anne Heeren vividly remembers the day she first became aware of her weight.

It was first grade. Nurses came to her North Carolina private school to practice taking vitals, which included weighing in front of the entire class.

Heeren watched from the back of a single-file line as each one of her classmates stepped up onto the scale. After it was her turn, she suddenly felt a hand grab her arm and yank her out of the classroom.

“They took me to a private room and told me if I didn’t focus on my weight that I was putting myself at risk for all these health issues,” said Heeren, now 25 and living in Gainesville, Florida. “They sent me home to my parents after having this traumatic experience where my weight was being used against me.”

Faith Anne Heeren, then 5 years old, at her home in 2003.

For the next 10 years, her mother took her to countless providers to seek help but they were always met with variations of the “eat less, move more” response. Eventually at age 15, Heeren became one of the first teens to undergo weight loss surgery. 

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first comprehensive guidance for evaluating and treating childhood obesity, recommending early and proactive treatment for children as young as 2. The new guidance suggests doctors may prescribe weight loss drugs to kids 12 and older who have obesity and may refer teens 13 and older with severe obesity for weight loss surgery, though situations may vary.

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