Atlanta experts weigh in on recommendations for overweight children

While every family and child may have differing opinions, experts agree healthier lifestyle changes are an absolute must.
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 8:58 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Parents and experts in metro Atlanta weigh in on new recommendations some children should consider medication and surgery as a treatment for overweight and obesity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance in January that children as young as 13 may consider surgery, and kids 12 and older can consider medications to aid in weight loss.

Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said the guidance is historic, giving overweight and obesity the significance it deserves.

“It’s not just if someone has willpower – it’s a disease,” explained Dr. Walsh. “When you have a disease and can’t treat it with medications – it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Dr. Walsh has already prescribed medication for some children to treat overweight and obesity after conversations with the family.

“If their doctor and family agrees, there shouldn’t be a reason not to put them on it,” she said.

14.4 million children and teenagers are affected by obesity. Experts emphasize healthy habits should be used in conjunction with any medical treatments.

“It’s nice to have a few extra tools to work with,” explained Dr. Walsh. “It’s all part of a bigger program.”

Ashley Keyes, executive chef for Atlanta nonprofit C.H.O.I.C.E.S., helps hundreds of families each year make healthier decisions. Keyes said her methods can help many children maintain healthy weight without medical treatment.

“It’s simple – doing one thing different each week,” explained Keyes.

Keyes teaches realistic strategies, like adding more colorful nutrients into everyday meals and drinking more water, to improve healthy habits. The nonprofit runs in-person and virtual cooking classes for families across the country.

Monique White, a parent who participates in C.H.O.I.C.E.S., said healthy swaps helped her teenage son drop two pant sizes. After five years with the program, she feels confident he can maintain a healthy weight without needing prescriptions.

“I would try everything before that. I would get a second or third opinion,” said White. “There are so many natural alternatives out there.”

While every family and child may have differing opinions on utilizing medication and surgery to treat overweight and obesity, experts agree healthier lifestyle changes are an absolute must.

“If you want just medicine, that’s not the answer. It has to be someone who wants to engage in those behavioral treatments as well,” said Dr. Walsh.

“Even if you get surgery, even if you take medication, you still have to work hard and watch what you eat. So think about it and do what’s best for your family and your child,” said Keyes.