Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment

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Abstract

Childhood obesity has emerged as an important public health problem in the United States and other countries in the world. Currently 1 in 3 children in the United States is afflicted with overweight or obesity. The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity is associated with emergence of comorbidities previously considered to be “adult” diseases including type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and dyslipidemia. The most common cause of obesity in children is a positive energy balance due to caloric intake in excess of caloric expenditure combined with a genetic predisposition for weight gain. Most obese children do not have an underlying endocrine or single genetic cause for their weight gain. Evaluation of children with obesity is aimed at determining the cause of weight gain and assessing for comorbidities resulting from excess weight. Family-based lifestyle interventions, including dietary modifications and increased physical activity, are the cornerstone of weight management in children. A staged approach to pediatric weight management is recommended with consideration of the age of the child, severity of obesity, and presence of obesity-related comorbidities in determining the initial stage of treatment. Lifestyle interventions have shown only modest effect on weight loss, particularly in children with severe obesity. There is limited information on the efficacy and safety of medications for weight loss in children. Bariatric surgery has been found to be effective in decreasing excess weight and improving comorbidities in adolescents with severe obesity. However, there are limited data on the long-term efficacy and safety of bariatric surgery in adolescents. For this comprehensive review, the literature was scanned from 1994 to 2016 using PubMed using the following search terms: childhood obesity, pediatric obesity, childhood overweight, bariatric surgery, and adolescents.

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