Obesity Prevention and Treatment in Primary Care

  • Callie L. Brown
    Address correspondence to Callie L. Brown, MD, MPH, Department of Pediatrics, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Medical Center Blvd, Winston-Salem, NC 27157
    Department of Pediatrics and Department of Epidemiology and Prevention (Dr Brown), Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC

    Department of Pediatrics and Duke Center for Childhood Obesity Research (Dr Perrin), Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC
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  • Eliana M. Perrin
    Department of Pediatrics and Department of Epidemiology and Prevention (Dr Brown), Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC

    Department of Pediatrics and Duke Center for Childhood Obesity Research (Dr Perrin), Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC
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      Despite extensive public health and clinical interventions, obesity rates remain high, and evidence-based preventive strategies are elusive. Many consensus guidelines suggest that providers should screen all children after age 2 years for obesity by measuring height and weight, calculating body mass index (BMI), and sensitively communicating weight status in the context of health to the family at each visit. However, preventive counseling should begin in infancy and focus on healthy feeding, activity, and family lifestyle behaviors. For children with overweight or obesity, the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines 4 stages of treatment: 1) Primary care providers should offer “prevention plus,” the use of motivational interviewing to achieve healthy lifestyle modifications in family behaviors or environments; 2) children requiring the next level of obesity treatment, structured weight management, need additional support beyond the primary care provider (such as a dietitian, physical therapist, or mental health counselor) and more structured goal setting with the team, including providers adept at weight management counseling; 3) children with severe obesity and motivated families may benefit from referral to a comprehensive multidisciplinary intervention, such as an obesity treatment clinic; and 4) tertiary care interventions are provided in a multidisciplinary pediatric obesity treatment clinic with standard clinical protocols for evaluation of interventions, including medications and surgery. Although it is certainly a challenge for providers to fit in all the desired prevention and treatment counseling during preventive health visits, by beginning to provide anticipatory guidance at birth, providers can respond to parents’ questions, add to parents’ knowledge base, and partner with parents and children and adolescents to help them grow up healthy. This is especially important in an increasingly toxic food environment with numerous incentives and messages to eat unhealthfully, barriers to appropriate physical activity, and concomitant stigma about obesity. Focusing on key nutrition and physical activity habits and establishing these healthy behaviors at an early age will allow children to develop a healthy growth trajectory. However, much more work is needed to determine the best evidence-based practices for providers to counsel families on improving target behaviors, environmental modifications, and parenting skills and to decrease abundant disparities in obesity prevalence and treatment.


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