Big Pharma is ready to cash in on the latest cash crop in American health care: childhood obesity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published new guidelines on tackling childhood obesity Monday, and they recommend a cocktail of pills and surgeries as long-term remedies for weight loss.
Rather than kick the kids outside and turn off their cell phones, the aggressive guidance suggests children aged 12 and older struggling with obesity be prescribed medication alongside lifestyle changes to confront the obesity epidemic surging in adolescents. Obese teens aged 13 and up are recommended to be screened as candidates for bariatric surgery.
Teens are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if their body mass index (BMI) lands at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. According to the CDC, nearly 20 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are categorically obese.
The AAP recommendations reflect growing alarmism over the obesity epidemic, which is particularly surging among children — many of whom are raised as lifelong medical patients trapped by the habits of their parents and a processed diet. Obesity threatens affected individuals with a heightened risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, plus limited mobility in the short term. Children are uniquely susceptible to the mental consequences of excess weight, exacerbated by teasing and bullying.
Medications proposed to combat the crisis include Orlistat and semaglutide — which are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for obesity treatment in children 12 and older — and metformin, which may be prescribed off-label. These medications, however, carry their own complications and risk long-term failure without comprehensive lifestyle changes.
Ozempic, for example, a brand-name form of semaglutide typically used to treat Type 2 diabetes, presents patients with a myriad of harmful side effects including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Dr. Sudeep Singh, a medical director at a concierge medical practice in Miami, told The Cut last fall that about half his patients prescribed the medicine experience gastrointestinal side effects. Dr. Tim Logemann, however, a specialist in cardiology and obesity in Wisconsin, touted Ozempic as doctors’ most effective medicine for weight loss.
“We love it,” Logemann told The Federalist in an interview. “We use it every chance we get.”
Logemann, who treats obesity in adults, said that while he didn’t have a strong opinion on administering the medicine to minors, there’s a “sadness about it.” The side effects, he added, just mean the medication is working.
“It would be better if kids could eat good food and didn’t need this drug,” Logemann said. “It’s very sad we can’t keep kids safe from bad food.”
The drug was approved by the FDA for weight loss in children in just 18 days based on a single trial, according to nutrition journalist Nina Teicholz. She labels the injections’ approval for obese adolescents as a textbook case of “pay to play,” with the drug industry eager to cash in on government subsidies with expanded consumption.
Orlistat, meanwhile, presents patients with two dozen common side effects including nausea, fever, and chills. Logemann dismissed the drug’s side effects as mostly benign but cautioned the medication “doesn’t really help.”
When it comes to bariatric surgery in minors, Logemann warned the procedure at such a young age could hinder future weight loss. While it’s still the most effective treatment for severe obesity in adults, a study published in February 2020 found 15 to 35 percent of those who undergo the surgery never meet their weight loss goals.
“The surgery is underutilized in adults, no doubt about it,” Logemann said. “But if you play that card in a 14-year-old, what are they going to look like when they’re 30?”
The array of medications promoted to minors may offer desperate children a pathway out of obesity, but they also risk a dangerous embrace of the status quo in health care. Kids addicted to a toxic food supply that made them sick in the first place are taught to seek out lab-manufactured treatment as an elixir to their gluttony over proactive lifestyle changes to keep off excess weight.
“When we treat obesity with different mechanisms than medication, that would be good,” Logemann said, “but it doesn’t seem like society as a whole is able to treat obesity effectively.”
Logemann outlined frustration with the pro-fat movement that’s sought to stigmatize honest conversations about weight as “fat-shaming.” The ensuing consequences have led to an overweight nation that’s more likely to fight obesity with pharmaceuticals than lifestyle changes.