Treatment for an Overweight Teen

When your teenager is very overweight, healthy changes to his diet, exercise, sleep, and other habits are the best ways for him to slim down. But if those tweaks aren’t enough to make a difference, consider some outside help. Many types of experts, weight loss programs, and other treatments can help.

Talk to your child's doctor before you choose any program or treatment for him. Weight loss may not be a safe choice for kids who haven’t reached their adult height. Also, make sure your teen is mature enough to consider these options and to understand how they’ll affect the rest of his life.

Expert Support

Many families get stuck when they’re trying to help an overweight teen. Someone outside the family can give you perspective and direction -- and help you set realistic goals.

Start with a doctor, a dietitian, nutritionist, or another expert on obesity in teens. A therapist, such as a psychologist or a clinical social worker with a background in teen weight loss, can also help. Many kids who are overweight also struggle with depression, so therapy can have extra benefits.

Experts disagree to an extent on the best treatment approach. Some say it’s important to track progress with regular weigh-ins and tallying food and exercise. Others think that close accounting doesn't work. You have to decide what option feels right for your family.

Weight Management Programs

Check to see if your medical insurance plan will help cover the costs of these. Options include:

A program at the doctor’s office. Some may have plans that include sessions with dietitians or behavior experts.

Pediatric weight management centers in a hospital or separate center. These may be similar to programs in medical offices and offer the support of several experts.

Immersion camps or schools for teens. These programs are not like traditional "fat camps." They aim to change a child's behavior as much as help him lose weight. While many kids slim down at the camps -- because of a low-calorie diet and more exercise -- they tend to gain the pounds back afterward. Immersion programs help kids learn ways to eat healthier and to exercise that they can keep doing when they get home and back to their "real lives." It might be a tough decision for you and your teen, but it could help in the long run.

Although not teen-specific, commercial programs like Weight Watchers will accept kids ages 10 to 16 with written medical permission. TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) offers nonprofit group support and may allow kids.

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More Options

What happens if these steps don't help your child manage his weight? Then you and your teen -- with a doctor’s input -- could consider some other treatment options for obesity.

Medication. There are no prescription weight-loss medicines recommended for teens. These drugs can have serious health risks and side effects. If you're curious about medication or supplements for your kid, talk with his doctor.

Many overweight teens experiment with over-the-counter weight loss pills. Those are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. If your teen is taking any, talk with him about the risks.

Surgery. An operation to make the stomach smaller can help obese teens who haven't been able to lose weight any other way. It can work, but it has serious risks. Also, your insurance may not cover it.

Surgery on its own won't cure obesity in teens. Your child will need to follow a special diet for the rest of his life. You should take this step only after careful consideration and a full evaluation by a team of child obesity experts.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on April 17, 2018

Sources

SOURCES: 

Lawrence Cheskin, MD, associate professor, Johns Hopkins Medical School; director, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Baltimore.

William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

Karen Donato, SM, coordinator, Overweight and Obesity Research Applications, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Dan Kirschenbaum, PhD, vice president, Clinical Services, Wellspring -- a division of CRC Health; director, Center for Behavioral Medicine & Sport Psychology, Chicago; professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago.

Kristen Liebl, LRD, Sanford Medical Center, Fargo, N.D.

Ann O. Scheimann, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Baltimore.

Michelle Van Beek, MD, pediatrician, Weight Management Clinic, Sanford Children's Clinic, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Kirschenbaum, D. Obesity Management, February 2009.

Kelly, K. Obesity Reviews, Jan. 12, 2010.

Rodearmel, S. American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2007.

Stice, E. Psychological Bulletin, 2006.

US Preventive Services Taskforce, Pediatrics, February 2010.

Barlow, S. Pediatrics, 2007.

Taveras, E. Obesity Research, May 2005.

Hettema, J. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2005.

American Medical Association: "Expert Committee Recommendations on the Assessment, Prevention and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity."

My Overweight Child: "What About Over-the-Counter Weight Loss Pills?"

USDA: "America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences."

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