Effectiveness of weight management interventions in children: A targeted systematic review for the USPSTF

Evelyn P. Whitlock, Elizabeth A. O'Connor, Selvi B. Williams, Tracy L. Beil, Kevin W. Lutz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

414 Scopus citations


CONTEXT: Targeted systematic review to support the updated US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation on screening for obesity in children and adolescents. OBJECTIVES: To examine the benefits and harms of behavioral and pharmacologic weight-management interventions for overweight and obese children and adolescents. METHODS: Our data sources were Ovid Medline, PsycINFO, the Education Resources Information Center, the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, the Cochrane databases, reference lists of other reviews and trials, and expert recommendations. After 2 investigators reviewed 2786 abstracts and 369 articles against inclusion/exclusion criteria, we included 15 fair- to good-quality trials in which the effects of treatment on weight, weight-related comorbidities, and harms were evaluated. Studies were quality rated by 2 investigators using established criteria. Investigators abstracted data into standard evidence tables. RESULTS: In the available research, obese (or overweight) children and adolescents aged 4 to 18 years were enrolled, and no studies targeted those younger than 4 years. Comprehensive behavioral interventions of medium-to-high intensity were the most effective behavioral approach with 1.9 to 3.3 kg/m2 difference favoring intervention groups at 12 months. More limited evidence suggests that these improvements can be maintained over the 12 months after the end of treatments and that there are few harms with behavioral interventions. Two medications combined with behavioral interventions resulted in small (0.85 kg/m2 for orlistat) or moderate (2.6 kg/m2 for sibutramine) BMI reduction in obese adolescents on active medication; however, no studies followed weight changes after medication use ended. Potential adverse effects were greater than for behavioral interventions alone and varied in severity. Only 1 medication (orlistat) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for prescription use in those aged ≥12 years. CONCLUSIONS: Over the past several years, research into weight management in obese children and adolescents has improved in quality and quantity. Despite important gaps, available research supports at least short-term benefits of comprehensive medium- to high-intensity behavioral interventions in obese children and adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e396-e418
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Obesity
  • Primary care
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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