Weighty Issues

Intervening in the childhood obesity fight


The psychiatrist or anyone else working with children and families must endeavor to reduce self-blame, explore influences, and instill hope in the process toward normal weight and/or adequate management of weight. The psychiatrist and anyone else working with the child and family will appreciate that, if energy intake and physical activity output are manipulated consistently, the tendency for the child will be increasing height and decreasing BMI. The Prevention and Management of Obesity for Children and Adolescents Guideline is very clear about when to refer to a tertiary special weight management program for children. The guideline also speaks to use of weight-loss medication (orlistat for children 12 years and older, sibutramine for children 16 years and older). Bariatric surgery is recommended for children who have finished growing up (by growth plate evidence) and face imminent serious health issues if their weight cannot be brought under control. These children, after surgery, will need to radically restrain their eating, take supplements, and be followed for the rest of their lives to forestall complications and return to overweight and obesity. I believe that child and adult psychiatrists can be of tremendous use here in helping sort out both the physical and course-of-life issues that could threaten successful continued weight loss, whether the weight loss comes through lifestyle change, lifestyle change and medications, or bariatric surgery and subsequent lifestyle change.

I would like to thank that young child psychiatrist who called, because he spurred me to continue our “Weighty Issues” journey by looking at childhood and overweight and obesity and how it can affect our work as physicians and psychiatrists. Parental physical condition at conception and gestation, and genetics may set the stage, and then interaction with the family, the culture, the society, and the environment all interplay in the child’s development to produce an outcome of an overweight or obese child. We still are trying to discover why some but not all children in the same family, neighborhood, socioeconomic strata, culture, etc., are burdened by overweight. The reasons may be found through biological inquiry, but it may just as well in found in psychiatric/psychological inquiry.

Dr. Harris, a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, is in private practice in adult and geriatric psychiatry in Hartford, Conn. She also works as a psychiatric consultant to continuing care retirement organizations and professional groups. Dr. Harris, a former president of the Black Psychiatrists of America, is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Besides psychotherapy, her major clinical interests include geriatrics, and the interface between general medicine and psychiatry.


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