About 5 percent of American children and teens are severely obese, the American Heart Association announced this week. The study can be found in AHA journal Circulation.
Lead author of the statement Dr. Aaron Kelly describes severe obesity as “a much more serious childhood disease than obesity.” Why? Affected children have higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
By the numbers, a severely obese child has a BMI that is at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for his or her gender and age. A BMI score of 35 or higher automatically designates a child as severely obese. For reference, children at the 95th percentile weigh more than 95 percent of children their age and gender, and children between the 85th and 95th percentiles are overweight.
The main issue with severe obesity is that standard weight loss approaches are insufficient. While bariatric surgery is an option, Kelly warns it is a major step not necessarily suitable for children. “The step from lifestyle change and medication to surgery is unacceptably large because weight loss surgery isn’t appropriate for or available to all severely obese children,” he says.
Ultimately, the American Heart Association’s statement calls for “innovative approaches to fill the gap between lifestyle/medication and surgery.” There needs to be an effective middle ground between minimal exercises and major surgery, they say.
In the meantime, the AHA proposes "more research on bariatric surgery’s effects and safety," the evaluation of lifestyle interventions (i.e., dietary and physical activity plans) and funding for intervention research.