ST. LOUIS – New guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics says physicians should be more proactive when it comes to treating childhood obesity.

“We are encountering more and more kids who have severe obesity,” Dr. Jennifer Sprague, a Washington University pediatric endocrinologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said. “Many of whom are getting complications from obesity that we used to think of only as adult diseases.”

Children are now dealing with diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and Type 2 Diabetes. This isn’t just a problem across the bi-state region. Around 15 million children and teens nationwide are obese. This means they have a body mass index that meets or exceeds the 95th percentile for kids of the same age.

“I’m really excited about these new guidelines,” Sprague said. “I think they take on much broader perspective at taking care of kids with obesity.”

The previous childhood obesity guidelines focused almost exclusively on lifestyle changes. However, the first new ones the AAP has released in 15 years have more advanced options including medication and weight loss surgery. Sprague is on-board with them, but another physician we spoke with thinks the guidance is too aggressive of an approach.

“I think childhood obesity is a large problem in our country, and there are many ways to approach it. I think some of the radical approaches may be too radical,” said Dr. Tim Staed, who works in pediatric emergency medicine.

As a father too, he has some concerns.

“There are risks involved with surgery,” he said. “I think lifestyle changes and certainly medications are appropriate, surgeries are something you need to give a lot of thought to.”

But Dr. Sprauge thinks will give her more options to better treat her patients, instead of the gradual, staged approach recommended in the past.

“Lifestyle itself rarely is going to make a big enough difference to improve those problems, versus if you think about doing bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery in those patients, sometimes we can cure those diseases or we can at least make them less severe,” she said.

You can read more about the new AAP obesity guidelines here.