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5% of U.S. Kids 'Severely Obese,' Experts Warn

New and better treatments needed for this newly defined disease, researchers say

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The steps to treating severely obese children range from lifestyle changes -- such as diet and exercise -- to more intensive tactics, including weight-loss drugs and, in some cases, surgery to reduce the size of the stomach.

Unfortunately, Kelly said, diet and exercise do not work all that well for these kids. And drugs and surgery are limited in their reach; surgery isn't appropriate for, or available to, all severely obese children, and the most effective weight-loss drugs aren't approved for use in children, Kelly noted.

More research into effective therapies is key, as is the recognition of severe obesity as a chronic disease, he explained.

"Pediatricians need other options besides just lifestyle therapy to treat this disease," Kelly said.

One expert said he thinks intensive and monitored lifestyle changes -- not drugs or surgery -- are the answer.

"How much better and more cost-effective [would it] be to impart life skills to these young people, through innovative models? Such models exist, but are not yet established as alternatives to surgery," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

According to Katz, the American Heart Association statement offers an "important and timely reminder" that general obesity may be stabilizing among U.S. children -- but severe obesity is "rising briskly."

"We must do all we can to minimize the development of severe obesity in the first place," Katz said. "But for the large number of kids already in this plight, my hope is that we can validate and fund behavioral options that rely on skills, so that we may rely a bit less on scalpels."

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