In extensive new clinical practice guidelines, the Endocrine Society and two others offer updated recommendations about the treatment of pediatric obesity. Among other things, the guidelines offer new insight into the role of genetics in childhood obesity, provide more extensive guidance regarding bariatric surgery in adolescents, and suggest that measurements of insulin concentrations aren’t useful barometers.

The guidelines also point to research gaps in several areas and call for more studies.

Why issue new guidelines now? “Eight years have passed since the last publication. We did a very thorough job, but there’s been an incredible amount of interest in child obesity, and more information is available,” lead author Dennis M. Styne, MD, professor of pediatrics and the Yocha Dehe endowed chair in pediatric endocrinology at the University of California at Davis, said in an interview. Indeed, recent years have produced hundreds of studies into pediatric obesity, he noted.

The 49-page guidelines are cosponsored by the European Society of Endocrinology and the Pediatric Endocrine Society (J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017 March;102[3]:1-49).

Pediatric obesity is of special interest to endocrinologists, Dr. Styne said. “While there’s interest from many specialists now, we are at the forefront of evaluation and treatment of complications like polycystic ovary syndrome, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes.”

The guidelines provide recommendations about a wide variety of obesity-related topics including screening, diagnosis, and treatment. The Endocrine Society commissioned two systematic reviews to support the guidelines: One examined longer randomized controlled trials into medication, surgery, lifestyle, and community-based intervention treatments. The other examined how changing body mass index levels corresponded to cardiometabolic changes.

Several updated areas in the guidelines should be of special interest to endocrinologists: guidance regarding the genetic causes of pediatric obesity, the use of weight-loss medication and surgery, and the roles of insulin tests and breast-feeding, according to Dr. Styne.

In regard to genetics, the guidelines note that research suggests 7% of patients with extreme pediatric obesity “may have rare chromosomal abnormalities and/or highly penetrant genetic mutations that drive their obesity. This percentage is likely to increase with newer methods for genetic testing.”

Dr. Styne calls this finding “remarkable.” As he put it, “we didn’t appreciate that so much in the past.”

The guidelines suggest genetic testing for patients who become obese before the age of 5 years, have a family history of extreme obesity, or show clinical signs of genetic obesity syndromes, especially extreme hyperphagia.

As for the most extreme treatments for the most obese children, the guidelines recommend against weight-loss medication outside of clinical trials and note that “increasing evidence” supports bariatric surgery in teens who haven’t been able to lose enough pounds through lifestyle modification. However, “the use of surgery requires experienced teams with resources for long-term follow-up.”

The guidelines also recommend against measuring serum insulin concentrations as part of pediatric screening for obesity. “A lot of people like to get insulin levels and think it tells them about the future of the child,” Dr. Styne said. “But it doesn’t work very well.”

In another area that reflects new information, the guidelines note that breast-feeding hasn’t been definitively shown to be effective in reducing childhood obesity. “The literature is contradictory,” Dr. Styne said, although he noted that breast-feeding still has many other benefits.

The guidelines point to research gaps in several areas, including the prevention and treatment of pediatric obesity. There’s also “uncharted territory” regarding how to “effectively transition to adult care, with continued necessary monitoring, support, and intervention.”

In regard to the best treatment programs, “we didn’t come up with an answer regarding overall effectiveness,” Dr. Styne said. “School- and community-based programs have promise, but I can’t give you the percentage of success.”

As for the overall picture of pediatric obesity in the United States, “we’re in a better situation than we were 8 years ago,” he said. “Everyone is talking about the problem, and when you talk to families, they’re more aware of it.”

Still, he said, the prevalence of obesity in kids is high, estimated at 17% of those aged 2-19 years in 2014. “That’s not a good place to be,” he said. “We still have to work harder.”

The Endocrine Society funded the guidelines. Dr. Styne reports ownership interests in Teva, Bristol Myers and Organovo. Other authors report various disclosures.


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