Treatments for childhood obesity are different for children below age seven than for older children. The goal in treating young obese children is to keep them from gaining weight rather than expecting them to lose weight. In this way, growth is not stunted and it is hoped that as the child grows, its body mass index will decrease. Once an obese child reaches age seven, the focus changes to weight loss. The pounds should come off slowly – about one per week.
Medications and diet supplements are often used on obese children to help them lose weight. Some typical aids include:
- Orlistat, prescription-approved for kids 12 and over, prevents the intestines from absorbing fat.
- Ephedra extract is a diet supplement that helps suppress hunger and burn calories, although not recommended for young children. It is commonly used in Germany, China and India, among other places.
- Statin drugs are often prescribed because obese children may have high cholesterol levels.
What About Surgery?
If medication fails, adolescents may be candidates for weight-loss surgery. This is meant as a last resort for morbidly obese children who have not responded to other treatments. Of course, all surgery is subject to complications, which makes this treatment an uncommon option for younger children. Physicians do not want to prevent normal growth, and so must evaluate the risks and rewards on a case-by-case basis. Typically, the stomach is partially closed so that only a small amount of food can be eaten at one time. The decision to proceed usually involves consultations among pediatricians, surgeons and endocrinologists to ensure a young patient is an appropriate candidate for surgery.
Before reaching the point of requiring medication or surgery, behavior modification should first be attempted. A child needs to learn about the effects of eating different foods, which foods to eat and which ones to avoid. The family of a young obese child should avoid bringing any snack or junk food into the home. Some parents teach young children to think of items like carrots as candy. In any event, behavior modification is more effective when parents provide a continual example of good eating habits. More severe behavior modification techniques may require psychological intervention or electrical stimulation procedures. The other element in treating obese children is to make sure they get a fair amount of physical activity. Some households severely limit access to the television set and encourage young ones to play at sports. Parents should never allow their children to become obese – it may make their entire lives a struggle.