Importance: Obesity is common in children and adolescents in the United States, is associated with negative health effects, and increases the likelihood of obesity in adulthood.
Objective: To systematically review the benefits and harms of screening and treatment for obesity and overweight in children and adolescents to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.
Data sources: MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Collaboration Registry of Controlled Trials, and the Education Resources Information Center through January 22, 2016; references of relevant publications; government websites. Surveillance continued through December 5, 2016.
Study selection: English-language trials of benefits or harms of screening or treatment (behavior-based, orlistat, metformin) for overweight or obesity in children aged 2 through 18 years, conducted in or recruited from health care settings.
Data extraction and synthesis: Two investigators independently reviewed abstracts and full-text articles, then extracted data from fair- and good-quality trials. Random-effects meta-analysis was used to estimate the benefits of lifestyle-based programs and metformin.
Main outcomes and measures: Weight or excess weight (eg, body mass index [BMI]; BMI z score, measuring the number of standard deviations from the median BMI for age and sex), cardiometabolic outcomes, quality of life, other health outcomes, harms.
Results: There was no direct evidence on the benefits or harms of screening children and adolescents for excess weight. Among 42 trials of lifestyle-based interventions to reduce excess weight (N = 6956), those with an estimated 26 hours or more of contact consistently demonstrated mean reductions in excess weight compared with usual care or other control groups after 6 to 12 months, with no evidence of causing harm. Generally, intervention groups showed absolute reductions in BMI z score of 0.20 or more and maintained their baseline weight within a mean of approximately 5 lb, while control groups showed small increases or no change in BMI z score, typically gaining a mean of 5 to 17 lb. Only 3 of 26 interventions with fewer contact hours showed a benefit in weight reduction. Use of metformin (8 studies, n = 616) and orlistat (3 studies, n = 779) were associated with greater BMI reductions compared with placebo: -0.86 (95% CI, -1.44 to -0.29; 6 studies; I2 = 0%) for metformin and -0.50 to -0.94 for orlistat. Groups receiving lifestyle-based interventions offering 52 or more hours of contact showed greater improvements in blood pressure than control groups: -6.4 mm Hg (95% CI, -8.6 to -4.2; 6 studies; I2 = 51%) for systolic blood pressure and -4.0 mm Hg (95% CI, -5.6 to -2.5; 6 studies; I2 = 17%) for diastolic blood pressure. There were mixed findings for insulin or glucose measures and no benefit for lipids. Medications showed small or no benefit for cardiometabolic outcomes, including fasting glucose level. Nonserious harms were common with medication use, although discontinuation due to adverse effects was usually less than 5%.
Conclusions and relevance: Lifestyle-based weight loss interventions with 26 or more hours of intervention contact are likely to help reduce excess weight in children and adolescents. The clinical significance of the small benefit of medication use is unclear.