In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines for treating childhood obesity for the first time in 15 years. Those guidelines emphasized early intervention and aggressive treatment. Although AAP stressed that the first approach should be on behavioral and lifestyle changes, for the first time the organization also recommended options including weight-loss drugs for kids as young as 12 and surgery for kids as young as 13.
News about the new guidelines was immediately met with a mix of disappointment and outrage. Parents and clinicians raised concerns about fat shaming and diet culture, the unknown side effects of starting children on obesity medication at such a young age, and how the stigma around body image can cause long term damage by contributing to eating disorders and other mental illness.
Childhood obesity in the U.S. and Colorado
Before we dive into that difficult and complex conversation, let’s start with some facts about obesity.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity affects one out of every five children and adolescents in the United States, and the prevalence continues to rise regardless of race, gender or ethnic background. Although the rate of childhood obesity was rising before the pandemic, restrictions on physical activity and diet during the pandemic have certainly had an impact. Obesity can contribute to chronic health conditions later in life including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, joint problems, breathing problems and depression. If we continue on this path, it is estimated that the direct healthcare costs associated with childhood obesity will reach $45 billion in the United States by 2050.
Fortunately, Colorado is a healthy state. According to Children’s Hospital Colorado, only 14% of Colorado children are considered obese, compared to 20% nationally. But the prevalence continues to rise, especially among low-income preschoolers. While many Telluride families enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle, there are others in our community who don’t have the financial resources to take advantage of the world class outdoor recreation that draws people to Colorado.
Addressing childhood obesity
So what should we make of the new AAP childhood obesity guidelines? What is the right approach to keeping our children healthy?
First, talk with your primary care provider. At TRMC, our approach is empathetic and non-judgmental. While we understand the long term risk from obesity, we also recognize the risk of stigmatizing children by forcing them to continually obsess about their weight and body image. We don’t believe in shaming or blaming, we only want to help parents help their children start and stay on a lifelong healthy path.
We will talk with you about family history, as well as the social, economic and psychological factors that will influence the health plan we ultimately recommend. We can also help you connect with community and culturally relevant resources and programs designed to educate and motivate children and families to embrace healthy lifestyle and behavioral changes. If lab tests or other medical options are indicated, we will discuss them with you to make sure you are able to make an informed decision that’s in the best interest of your child. We may also recommend scheduling appointments with a behavioral health counselor, dietitian, physical therapist, school counselor or other clinician.
Ultimately, our job is to help your children develop healthy habits they can carry with them through their lives, including scheduling regular visits with their primary care provider. Staying healthy for life is a team effort. Please let us be part of your team.
If you have questions or concerns about childhood obesity, schedule an appointment with our Primary Care team by calling call us at 970-728-3848.