Healthcare Strategies to Prevent and Treat Childhood Obesity

Healthcare providers, health plans, delivery systems, and information technologies all play a role in supporting children’s healthy growth and the prevention and treatment of obesity.

Prevention and care management options are needed in clinics and hospital-based settings. Healthcare can address childhood obesity by providing proven health services, complemented by community resources, systems changes, programs, and policies.

The US Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend screening children for obesity and offering prevention or treatment services. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening children and adolescents 6 years and older for obesity, and offering or referring those with obesity to family-centered, comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions to promote improvements in weight status.

Family Healthy Weight Programs

Guideline-based care effectively treats obesity but is not available to most children with excess weight. Evidence-based recommendations for children with obesity include referral to a family healthy weight program. Reported barriers to providing access to these programs include availability, cost, and insurance reimbursement.1-3
The following are tools and resources that can be used in healthcare settings to prevent and treat childhood obesity.

Clinical Growth Charts

Used by pediatricians, other healthcare providers, and caregivers to track the growth of infants, children, and adolescents. CDC recommends that health care providers use the World Health Organization growth standards to monitor growth for infants and children ages 0 to 2 years of age. CDC growth charts can be used to monitor growth for children aged 2 years and older.

CDC Child and Teen Body Mass Index Calculator

Provides body mass index (BMI) and corresponding BMI-for-age percentile based on CDC growth charts for children and teens ages 2 through 19 years.

American Academy of Pediatrics Best-Practice Tools

Children in a swimming pool

Clinical supports for obesity prevention, assessment, and treatment best-practices in patients 2 years and older. AAP’s Bright Futures health promotion and prevention initiative also includes guidance on child
obesity prevention during well-child visits.

Referrals to Community Resources

Patient prescription or referral to community resources that support families in healthy eating, active living, and improving social determinants of health. Helping patients engage with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start early childhood learning & knowledge centers, or local parks and recreation programs can facilitate
obesity prevention and management in childhood.

A Toolkit for Evaluating Childhood Healthy Weight Programs

Provides guidance to researchers and practitioners on evaluation readiness, process measures, outcome measures, contextual factors, program sustainability, and remote evaluation of childhood healthy weight programs. Helps those implementing childhood healthy weight programs understand how to evaluate whether the program is meeting its goals.

National Academy of Medicine Model Framework

Integrates community and clinical systems for the prevention and management of obesity and other chronic diseases.

Health Plans

Describes the role of health plans in preventing overweight in children and adolescents.

Health Information Technology for Obesity and Related Behaviors

Body mass index (BMI) data captured in Electronic Health Records (EHR) can benefit patient care, including screening and group practice quality improvement efforts. These data can be a valuable resource for health systems to support population-based health activities.

The following interoperability standards can be used to capture and document health-related data in EHRs: HL7 Version 3 Detailed Clinical Models, Release 1 – Body Weight and Body Height   and Healthy Weight  

  1. Imoisili O, Goodman A, Dooyema C, et al. Screening and Referral for Childhood Obesity: Adherence to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2019.56: 2, 179-186
  2. Sharifi M, Block J. The Urgency of Expanding Access to Effective Treatment for Childhood Obesity. Childhood Obesity2021 17:S1, S-3-S-
  3. Wilfley DE, Staiano AE, Altman M, Lindros J, Lima A, Hassink SG, Dietz WH, Cook S; Improving Access and Systems of Care for Evidence-Based Childhood Obesity Treatment Conference Workgroup. Improving access and systems of care for evidence-based childhood obesity treatment: Conference key findings and next steps. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017 Jan;25(1):16-29. doi: 10.1002/oby.21712. Epub 2016 Dec 7. PMID: 27925451; PMCID: PMC5373656.
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