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March 23, 2020

Obesity Treatment Among Adolescents: A Review of Current Evidence and Future Directions

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics and Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville
  • 2Diabetes Institute, Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville
  • 3Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4The Children’s Obesity Clinic, Holbaek Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, the Netherlands
  • 5Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(6):609-617. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0085

Importance  Obesity in adolescence has reached epidemic proportions around the world, with the prevalence of severe obesity increasing at least 4-fold over the last 35 years. Most youths with obesity carry their excess adiposity into adulthood, which places them at increased risk for developing obesity-driven complications, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and negatively affects social and emotional health. Given that adolescence is a unique transition period marked by significant physiologic and developmental changes, obesity-related complications can also negatively affect adolescent growth and developmental trajectories.

Observations  Provision of evidence-based treatment options that are tailored and appropriate for the adolescent population is paramount, yet complex. The multifactorial etiology of obesity along with the significant changes that occur during the adolescent period increasingly complicate the treatment approach for adolescent obesity. Treatment practices discussed in this review include an overview of evidence supporting currently available behavioral, pharmacologic, surgical, and device interventions for obesity. However, it is important to note that these practices have not been effective at reducing adolescent obesity at the population level.

Conclusions and Relevance  Because adolescent obesity requires lifelong treatment, effectively addressing this disease will require significant resources, scientific rigor, and the provision of access to quality care similar to other chronic health conditions. Effective and less invasive therapies, effective adjuncts, and comprehensive centers that offer specialized treatment are critical. This considerable need for increased attention to obesity care calls for dedicated resources in both education and research for treatment of obesity in youths.

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