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September 2017

Screenings May Help Trim Childhood Obesity

Nearly 13 million children in the U.S. are obese. Many of them will carry those unwanted extra pounds into adulthood. That puts them at risk for health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. To help trim this weighty issue, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently updated its recommendation on screening for obesity in children. 

Overweight child eating lunch at school

What the latest research says

The USPSTF is a panel of health experts. It recommends preventive healthcare based on the latest research. Earlier this year, the USPSTF reviewed studies on obesity in children and adolescents. It looked at the benefits and harms of screening for the disease. Its key finding: All children ages 6 and older should be screened for obesity. 

During its review, the USPSTF also found what may work best for treating childhood obesity. Children who are obese seem to benefit the most from intensive behavioral interventions. These include weight-loss programs with 26 hours or more of individual and family counseling. These programs may focus on topics such as healthy eating, exercising, and goal setting. 

The USPSTF also noted that medicines such as metformin and orlistat don’t seem to help children lose much weight. But more research is needed to say so for sure. These medicines can have side effects, such as stomach pain and nausea. That may be limiting their use. 

What can parents do?

Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about obesity screening, especially if you think your child may have a weight problem. Your child’s healthcare provider will use your child’s height and weight to calculate his or her body mass index (BMI). This number, when compared with growth charts based on age and sex, can tell if a child is at a healthy weight. 

Children who have a BMI in the 85th to 94th percentile for their age and sex are overweight. Those with a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher are obese. 

If your child is overweight or obese, you can help him or her lose weight. Here are some strategies:

  • Set a good example. Your child will likely follow your lead on eating healthier and being more physically active.

  • Watch how much your child eats. Cutting back on portion sizes can help your child eat fewer calories.

  • Remove unhealthy foods, like sugar-sweetened drinks, from your home. Offer your child healthier choices, such as water, low-fat milk, and lots of fruits and vegetables.

  • Plan family meals. Eating out less often gives you more control over the foods your child eats.

  • Encourage your child to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day.   

Your child’s healthcare provider may also suggest a weight-loss program. When choosing such a program, look for one that:

  • Has a variety of healthcare providers—dietitians, psychologists, exercise specialists—who can help your child with all facets of weight-loss

  • Checks your child’s weight and health before and during treatment

  • Has age-appropriate services

  • Teaches the whole family healthy habits for life


Find more resources about weight loss for your child.



Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2017
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