Children and adolescents aged 6 years and older should be screened for obesity and referred to comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions with at least 26 hours of intervention contact, according to a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement that was published online June 20 in JAMA.

This updated recommendation is largely consistent with the previous 2010 recommendation “but includes the word ‘adolescents’ to further clarify the population to which this recommendation applies,” according to a press release accompanying the Recommendation Statement and the Evidence Report on which it is based.

After reviewing 45 studies involving 7,099 overweight or obese children and adolescents, the USPSTF concluded that the magnitude of benefit of screening for obesity in this age group and referring affected patients to appropriate behavioral interventions was “moderate,” said David C. Grossman, MD, chair of the USPSTF and pediatrician and senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Seattle, and his associates.

The behavioral interventions that proved most beneficial included at least 26 hours of contact over a period of 2-12 months. Those that included 52 or more hours of contact achieved even greater weight loss, as well as some improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors (JAMA. 2017 Jun 20. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.6803).

In general, children and adolescents who received intensive behavioral intervention showed absolute reductions in BMI z scores of 0.20 and maintained their baseline weight within approximately 5 pounds, while control subjects showed small or no reductions in BMI z scores and typically gained a mean of 5-17 pounds.

The components of these comprehensive interventions varied, but the most successful ones included sessions involving both the child and the parent (separately, together, or both); offered both family and group sessions; provided education regarding healthy eating, exercising, and reading food labels; encouraged stimulus-control measures such as limiting access to unhealthy foods and limiting screen time (that is, physical inactivity); and included supervised physical activity. Additional beneficial components are assisting patients to identify and accomplish goals, self-monitor, and problem-solve, as well as teaching them coping skills and addressing their body image.

In contrast to behavioral interventions, pharmacotherapy was not endorsed by the USPSTF. The current evidence was deemed inadequate to determine whether the slight weight loss achieved with pharmacotherapy is clinically significant and whether it outweighs the harms of the medications.

The two agents currently used in this regard are metformin, which is not Food and Drug Administration–approved for this purpose, and orlistat, which is approved for patients aged 12 years and older. Orlistat in particular frequently causes adverse events including fatty or oily stools, abdominal pain or cramping, flatus with stool discharge, and fecal incontinence, Dr. Grossman and his associates said.

The USPSTF is an independent voluntary group supported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality as mandated by Congress. The authors’ conflicts of interest are available at .


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