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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2008;16(2):80-96. doi: 10.1080/10673220802069764.

Pediatric obesity: parallels with addiction and treatment recommendations.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.


Rates of pediatric obesity have increased dramatically over the past decade. This trend is especially alarming because obesity is associated with significant medical and psychosocial consequences. It may contribute to cardiovascular, metabolic, and hepatic complications, as well as to psychiatric difficulties. The development of obesity appears to be influenced by a complex array of genetic, metabolic, and neural frameworks, along with behavior, eating habits, and physical activity. Numerous parallels exist between obesity and addictive behaviors, including genetic predisposition, personality, environmental risk factors, and common neurobiological pathways in the brain. Typical treatments for pediatric obesity include behavioral interventions targeting diet or exercise. These treatments have yielded mixed results and typically have been examined in specialty clinic populations, limiting their generalizability. There are limited medication options for overweight children and adolescents, and no approved medical intervention in children younger than 16 years old. Bariatric surgery may be an option for some adolescents, but due to the risks of surgery, it is often seen as a last resort. The parallels between addiction and obesity aid in developing novel interventions for pediatric obesity. Motivational enhancement and cognitive-behavioral strategies used in addiction treatment may prove to be beneficial.

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