Council of Representatives approves APA clinical practice guideline on behavioral treatment of obesity and overweight in children and adolescents

Guideline aims to inform healthcare providers, patients, families and policymakers.

The American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives voted 125-40 on March 10, 2018, with six council members abstaining, to approve as APA policy a "Clinical Practice Guideline on Multicomponent Behavioral Treatment of Obesity and Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Current State of the Evidence and Research Needs" (PDF, 277KB). The guideline was developed by a multidisciplinary panel of scientists, clinicians and community members.

The adopted guideline summarizes existing research and makes recommendations on multicomponent behavioral treatment and management of obesity and overweight in youth ages 2 to 18. The recommendations are not intended to be mandates or to supplant clinician judgment, but to inform health care providers, patients, families and policymakers as they make decisions about treatment options. 

"The clinical practice guideline comes at a time when more than 30 percent of youth ages 2 to 18 have overweight or obesity, and the associated increased long-term health risks have been clearly documented. It establishes a reasonable course of action for efficacious treatment given what we know now and identifies future research needs including work to better understand the impact of interventions among subgroups of children or adolescents based on gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status,” said Maria Llabre, PhD, of the University of Miami. Llabre served as chair of the panel that developed the guideline.

In 2017, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reconfirmed its 2010 recommendation that clinicians screen children ages 6 to 18 years for obesity and offer these children or refer them to comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions to promote improvements in weight status. This recommendation was also endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2014. Based on a systematic review of the evidence, the APA clinical practice guideline recommends that the intervention include 26 contact hours and address behavior change, diet and physical activity with appropriate involvement of family. Additionally, the APA guideline incorporates the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement and recommendations regarding the prevalence and negative effects of weight stigma among pediatric patients and their families.

APA staff are in the process of developing a website that will contain training materials for providing the intervention components recommended in the guideline, along with other tools for clinicians, consumers and policymakers. Further information on APA’s guideline development initiative is available on the APA Clinical Practice Guideline Development webpage.