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Cover of Effectiveness of Weight Management Programs in Children and Adolescents

Effectiveness of Weight Management Programs in Children and Adolescents

Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, No. 170

Investigators: , MD, MPH, , PhD, , MD, MPH, , MS, and , MFA.

Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); .
Report No.: 08-E014

Structured Abstract


To examine available behavioral, pharmacological, and surgical weight management interventions for overweight (defined as BMI ≥ 85th to 94th percentile of age and sex-specific norms) and/or obese (BMI ≥ 95th percentile) children and adolescents in clinical and nonclinical community settings.

Data Sources:

We identified two good quality recent systematic reviews that addressed our research questions. We searched Ovid MEDLINE®, PsycINFO, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Education Resources Information Center from 2005 (2003 for pharmacological studies) to December 11, 2007 to identify literature that was published after the search dates of prior relevant systematic reviews; we also examined reference lists of five other good-quality systematic reviews and of included trials, and considered experts' recommendations. We identified two good quality systematic reviews and 2355 abstracts from which we identified 45 primary studies and trials that addressed our research questions.

Review Methods:

After review by two investigators against pre-determined inclusion/exclusion criteria, we included existing good-quality systematic reviews, fair-to-good quality trials, and case series (for bariatric surgeries only) to evaluate the effects of treatment on weight and weight-related co-morbidities; we would have included large comparative cohort studies to evaluate longer term followup and harms of behavioral and pharmaceutical treatment and noncomparative cohort studies for surgical treatments if they had been available. Investigators abstracted data into standard evidence tables with abstraction checked by a second investigator. Studies were quality-rated by two investigators using established criteria.


Available research primarily enrolled obese (but not overweight) children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 years and no studies targeted those less than 5 years of age. Behavioral interventions in schools or specialty health care settings can result in small to moderate short-term improvements. Absolute or relative weight change associated with behavioral interventions in these settings is generally modest and varies by treatment intensity and setting. More limited evidence suggests that these improvements can be maintained completely (or somewhat) over the 12 months following the end of treatments and that there are few harms with behavioral interventions. Two medications (sibutramine, orlistat) combined with behavioral interventions can result in small to moderate short-term weight loss in obese adolescents with potential side effects that range in severity. Among highly selected morbidly obese adolescents, very limited data from case series suggest bariatric surgical interventions can lead to moderate to substantial weight loss in the short term and to some immediate health benefits through resolution of comorbidities, such as sleep apnea or asthma. Harms vary by procedure. Short-term severe complications are reported in about 5 percent and less severe short-term complications occur in 10 to 39 percent. Very few cases provide data to determine either beneficial or harmful consequences more than 12 months after surgery.


The research evaluating the treatment of obese children and adolescents has improved in terms of quality and quantity in the past several years. While there are still significant gaps in our understanding of obesity treatment in children and adolescents, the current body of research points the way to further improvements needed to inform robust policy development. Publication of additional research and policy activities by others, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, is expected in the near future. And, in considering this important public health issue, policymakers should not ignore the importance of obesity prevention efforts as well as treatment.


Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.1 Contract Number 290-02-0024. Prepared by: Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, Portland, OR.

Suggested citation:

Whitlock EP, O'Connor EA, Williams SB, Beil TL, Lutz KW. Effectiveness of Weight Management Programs in Children and Adolescents. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 170 (Prepared by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-02-0024). AHRQ Publication No. 08-E014. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. September 2008.

This report is based on research conducted by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD (Contract No. 290-02-0024). The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the author(s), who are responsible for its content, and do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. No statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The information in this report is intended to help clinicians, employers, policymakers, and others make informed decisions about the provision of health care services. This report is intended as a reference and not as a substitute for clinical judgment.

This report may be used, in whole or in part, as the basis for the development of clinical practice guidelines and other quality enhancement tools, or as a basis for reimbursement and coverage policies. AHRQ or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsement of such derivative products may not be stated or implied.

No investigators have any affiliations or financial involvement (e.g., employment, consultancies, honoraria, stock options, expert testimony, grants or patents received or pending, or royalties) that conflict with material presented in this report.


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Bookshelf ID: NBK38587


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