Why Is the Most Recommended Childhood Obesity Treatment Not Readily Available?

For many U.S. parents seeking help for a child with obesity, the most widely endorsed treatment is out of reach — and it’s not the popular GLP-1 agonists like Wegovy, used for weight loss and managing diabetes.

What is the recommended childhood obesity treatment?

Leading medical groups recommend intensive behavioral counseling, spanning 26 hours within one year, to teach children and their families practical ways to eat healthier and be more active. Sounds good, right? A recent Reuters article digs into the reasons these touted programs aren’t easy to find.

And why is not widely available?

These programs are not widely accessible, with wait lists often stretching for several months. They are frequently not covered by health insurance and require a time commitment that many families find challenging, according to interviews with over a dozen doctors and parents.

No treatment option improvement is expected

Consequently, fewer than 1% of the nearly 15 million U.S. children with obesity receive this type of structured care, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters. Efforts by the CDC and other organizations to expand insurance coverage have stalled, doctors involved in the process also told Reuters.

“The coverage for these programs was never good, and we’re not seeing any movement toward improvement,” said Dr. Joseph Skelton, a professor of pediatrics and obesity medicine specialist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

No end in sight for curbing childhood obesity

The prevalence of obesity among U.S. children has steadily increased, from 5% in 1980 to nearly 20% now, according to the CDC. It’s also a global issue. New research published by JAMA Pediatrics and based on a review of global studies revealed that the prevalence of obesity increased by 150% in the period covering 2012–2023 compared to 2000–2011, indicating that pediatric obesity and overweight conditions are increasingly common. The problem is getting worse.

This is where the GLP-1 drugs come in

According to new research, the number of young people in the US prescribed GLP-1 agonist drugs, such as Wegovy and Ozempic, for weight loss and diabetes increased by 594.4% over the past three years. The most notable increase in prescriptions was observed among young women and adolescent girls.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its obesity management guidelines, recommending that in addition to behavior and lifestyle interventions for the entire family, weight loss medications are suitable for children aged 12 and older.

Clinical trials involving intensive behavioral programs for children and found that, on average, children lost 5.7 pounds. In contrast, Wegovy and similar drugs have resulted in a more dramatic weight loss — 15% or more of body weight in clinical trials. This significant weight loss, coupled with a lack of insurance coverage for counseling, may lead more families to consider these medications in the future.

Are GLP-1 medications safe for children?

In short, more research is needed. Many doctors and parents are cautious about using the medication due to the lack of data on its potential impact on a child’s development and other long-term risks.

Some doctors argue that increased use of Wegovy among youth will make it even more critical for children to learn healthy eating habits for the long term. They are concerned that relying solely on the drugs could lead to nutritional deficiencies or eating disorders.

Dr. Thomas Robinson, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in Palo Alto, California, said:

Many of us believe it would make sense to offer behavioral counseling along with the drug. These drugs are very effective at reducing weight and health risks, but you don’t all of a sudden adopt a healthy diet or become more physically active.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Weight-loss options for children are hard to come by,” Reuters, 6/17/24
Source: “Prescriptions for weight loss, diabetes drugs for young people leaped 600% since 2020, study says,” CNN, 5/23/24
Image by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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