Children with obesity need better treatment

16 million will be obese in Europe by 2020
  • Deborah Condon

Children with obesity need to be able to access a range of high-quality treatment options, experts have said.

According to a new report from the World Obesity Federation, while lifestyle interventions, such as maintaining a healthy diet and being physically active, remain the most common forms of treatment, recent evidence has shown the limitations of such interventions.

As a result, there is a need for higher-quality, more comprehensive treatment regimes, which may include the use of novel dietary interventions, as well as pharmacological and surgical treatments.

The report noted that the prevalence of childhood obesity has been rising worldwide and the World Health Organization now considers it "one of the most serious public heath challenges of the 21st century".

By next year, over 150 million children around the world will be classified as obese and this figure is projected to increase to 250 million by 2030.

In the European region alone, almost 16 million children are expected to be classified as obese in 2020, rising to 21 million by 2030.

The report warned that childhood obesity has major physical, emotional, social and economic consequences, with children more likely to develop a range of health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disorders. They are also more likely to be bullied as a result of their weight.

The report notes that lifestyle and behavioural interventions should continue to be prioritised, however it points out that their effectiveness may be limited and as a result, alternatives should be explored.

Using the evidence available, along with a series of case studies, the report makes a number of recommendations aimed at healthcare professionals and policymakers throughout the EU. These include:

-The promotion of equitable access to treatment, including necessary interventions and follow-up services
-The promotion of parental involvement in any type of intervention.
-Consider the use of alternative treatment options if traditional lifestyle and behavioural interventions fail, including bariatric surgery and pharmacological treatments. However, bariatric surgery should only be considered in post-pubertal teenagers as an exception if lifestyle interventions have failed, and pharmacological treatments should be used with caution.

"Far more should be done to develop effective strategies for managing obesity. However, these strategies must acknowledge that it is hard to get adolescents to turn up for treatment or change their behaviour, especially if the results are slow to emerge," commented Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy at the World Obesity Federation.

He noted that obesity can be a struggle for young people both physically and mentally, and this is not helped by the media.

"Children, especially adolescents, are acutely aware of their body image and are bombarded with media messages, almost entirely outside parental or school control, that stigmatise overweight. At the same time, the media are promoting sedentary activities and unhealthy foods," Dr Lobstein pointed out.

He said that one of the reasons professional interventions have only a limited impact on children is because they continue to be exposed to "a highly obesogenic environment during and after they receive treatment".

"This is why governments and health professionals need to tackle the environments that encourage weight gain, both to prevent further cases of obesity and to support more effectively those children in treatment," Dr Lobstein added.

The report can be viewed here.

*Picture courtesy of the World Obesity Federation

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