Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines · the Body Mass Index (BMI: weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in metres: kg/m 2), with - [PDF Document] (2024)

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network

Management of obesity inchildren and young peopleA national clinical guideline

1 Introduction 1

2 Definitions and prevalence 3

3 Consequences of childhood obesity 6

4 Prevention 8

5 Treatment 10

6 Key messages for patients and parents 13

7 Development of the guideline 14

Annex 1 BMI charts 17

Annex 2 Healthy eating and changing behaviours 19

References 22

April 2003


© Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines NetworkISBN 1 899893 43 1First published 2003



1++ High quality meta-analyses, systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs),or RCTs with a very low risk of bias

1+ Well conducted meta-analyses, systematic reviews of RCTs, or RCTs with a lowrisk of bias

1 - Meta-analyses, systematic reviews of RCTs, or RCTs with a high risk of bias

2++ High quality systematic reviews of case control or cohort studiesHigh quality case control or cohort studies with a very low risk of confounding or biasand a high probability that the relationship is causal

2+ Well conducted case control or cohort studies with a low risk of confounding or biasand a moderate probability that the relationship is causal

2 - Case control or cohort studies with a high risk of confounding or biasand a significant risk that the relationship is not causal

3 Non-analytic studies, e.g. case reports, case series

4 Expert opinion


Note: The grade of recommendation relates to the strength of the evidence on which therecommendation is based. It does not reflect the clinical importance of the recommendation.

A At least one meta-analysis, systematic review of RCTs, or RCT rated as 1++

and directly applicable to the target population; or

A body of evidence consisting principally of studies rated as 1+, directly applicable tothe target population, and demonstrating overall consistency of results

B A body of evidence including studies rated as 2++, directly applicable to the targetpopulation, and demonstrating overall consistency of results; or

Extrapolated evidence from studies rated as 1++ or 1+

C A body of evidence including studies rated as 2+, directly applicable to the targetpopulation and demonstrating overall consistency of results; or

Extrapolated evidence from studies rated as 2++

D Evidence level 3 or 4; or

Extrapolated evidence from studies rated as 2+


þ Recommended best practice based on the clinical experience of the guidelinedevelopment group

SIGN consents to the photocopying of this guideline for thepurpose of implementation in NHSScotland

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines NetworkRoyal College of Physicians9 Queen StreetEdinburgh EH2 1JQ



1 Introduction


Obesity is an increasingly common problem in children and young people and is difficult to treat.Children and young people were not addressed in the previous SIGN guideline on obesity,1 and atpresent no evidence based guideline exists. Diagnosis of obesity in childhood is less robustlyperformed than for adults, and this has led to a wide variation in practice. Some large childrenhave been labelled as obese and had needless referral and treatment, whereas some very obesechildren have not been recognised as being at risk nor had appropriate referral. The adverseconsequences of childhood obesity, such as development of hypertension, hyperlipidaemia andtype 2 diabetes, are under-recognised, as is the tendency for childhood obesity to persist into adultobesity. The prevention of childhood obesity is not adequately addressed despite a rapid rise in itsprevalence. Treatments have only limited success, resulting in a negative approach to treatmentstrategies. In light of these issues, there is an urgent need for an evidence based guideline forclinical practice.


This guideline aims to provide recommendations based on current evidence for best practice inthe management of obesity in children and young people, up to the age of 18. The definition ofchildhood obesity is reviewed, and information on both the prevalence of childhood obesity inthe UK, and recent trends in the prevalence of obesity, are presented. The immediate consequencesof obesity in childhood and possible consequences in adulthood are identified, as are subgroupsof children at high risk of developing obesity. Preventive interventions for childhood obesity arealso reviewed. The treatment of childhood obesity and the goals of therapy, particularly managementin the community and management beyond primary care are discussed along with advice onhealthy eating.

Many aspects of the management of childhood obesity have either not been subject to systematicevaluation, or have limited robust evidence to support recommendations. Thereforerecommendations for research have been made throughout the document. The guideline developmentgroup recognises that monitoring of potential adverse effects of interventions should be part of anytrials of treatment or prevention.

Appraising the role of screening for obesity in children was not within the remit of this guideline.


Obesity in children is different from obesity in adults in some important respects. The maindifference is that all children and adolescents need to grow; for example during puberty, a child�sweight will double and their height increase by 20%. This has obvious consequences for thediagnosis, prevention and treatment of obesity in childhood. Simple measures of obesity such asthe body mass index (BMI) cannot be used in isolation, instead they should be expressed as a BMIpercentile in relation to an age and sex matched population. When considering the preventionand treatment of childhood obesity, dietary energy restriction, increases in activity and decreasesin sedentary behaviour must not compromise normal growth and development. For these reasons,weight maintenance is often a suitable goal, rather than weight loss. Gradual, measured andsustainable weight loss may be an appropriate target in some cases.

The aetiology of obesity lies in deranged energy balance. If adults are in energy balance, they willneither gain nor lose weight. In children, growth is only possible if energy intake (as food anddrink) exceeds energy output (resting metabolic rate and activity). Excess energy is stored in newtissue. With increasing degrees of positive energy balance, excess adipose tissue will be formedand stored.

In the United Kingdom, a rapid rise in the prevalence of obesity has occurred, mainly due toenvironmental and behavioural changes relating to diet and inactivity. Although data from the



National Food Survey2 show that household energy intakes have fallen since 1970, there has beena concomitant change in the type of food consumed. In particular there has been an increasedintake of high fat foods. These are readily available, very palatable and energy-dense, but may notsatisfy the appetite as quickly as high carbohydrate foods.

The marked rise in obesity prevalence has coincided with a major change in how children spendtheir time, resulting in both a decrease in physical activity and a rise in sedentary behaviour.3 Thecauses of this behaviour change are complex and cumulative. For many there has been a generalreduction in activity during daily living (for example, less walking, greater use of cars, more use ofescalators and lifts), and also reductions in the amount of physical education and sport carried outat school and at home. The marked rise in sedentary behaviour is associated with increased timespent watching television, playing computer games, surfing the internet and using the telephone.

There may be a wider societal and political context to these changes.This includes, for example;the loss of school playing fields; the lack of a safe environment in which to walk or cycle toschool or for physical play at the home; transport policies that favour driving above cycling orwalking; a food industry that targets children with advertisem*nts for high energy foods, andhealth promotion policies that fail to target appropriate dietary change or address issues of healthinequality. The guideline development group is aware of these issues, but did not find any policyinterventions, either at local or national level, that could be studied within the confines of anevidence based guideline. The group hopes that this guideline can inform the debate on the risingprevalence and adverse health consequences of childhood obesity, and lead to appropriate multiagency working locally, and active involvement and consultation between public health, educationand environment departments at a national level. It is important, however, that any policyintervention is evidence based and appropriately evaluated prior to widespread introduction.


The target audience for this guideline is those in primary care who care for children with obesity,plus those in secondary and tertiary care to whom children with obesity may be referred:

n general practitioners (GPs)n health visitorsn practice nursesn hospital and community dietitiansn consultant hospital and community paediatricians and physiciansn junior doctorsn clinical psychologistsn play therapists.

Although dietitians, GPs and physicians are particularly targeted, the guideline is also relevant tothose with a nutrition interest, for example, the school health service (nurses and doctors), andthose in education, such as the school meals service, PE teachers and local authority planners ofnursery services. This is a social issue rather than a purely medical one and the management islargely outside the surgery.


2 Definitions and prevalence


An ideal tool to assess obesity in children would simply and rapidly identify those with excessbody fat who are at risk of morbidity. For adult practice4 there is widespread agreement on use ofthe Body Mass Index (BMI: weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in metres: kg/m2),with a simple definition of obesity as BMI >30.0 kg/m2. For children and young people (thoseaged <18 years), BMI is not a static measurement, but varies from birth to adulthood, and isdifferent between boys and girls. Interpretation of BMI values in children and young peopletherefore depends on comparisons with population reference data, using cut-off points in the BMIdistribution (BMI percentiles). Despite these limitations, there is widespread international supportfor the use of BMI to define obesity in children, expressed in non-systematic reviews and consensusstatements.5-13

The value of BMI as a measure of childhood obesity has been assessed in clinical and anthropometricstudies, of which two contain British data.14-19 The effectiveness of BMI as a screening tool toidentify the fattest children correctly has been assessed by comparisons against reference measuresof body fatness, such as hydrodensitometry and dilution of the stable isotopes deuterium andoxygen-18. 20-28

Use of cut off ranges for BMI is associated with high specificity and moderate sensitivity foridentifying the fattest children, particularly when the cut off is greater than the 90th centile.20

These cut-offs are also clinically meaningful: obesity defined in this way is associated with shortand long term morbidity (eg tendency for obesity to persist,29 presence and clustering of cardiovascularrisk factors).30,31

The remit of this guideline is to recommend an evidence based means of diagnosing obesity inchildren in Scotland. The recommendations are intended primarily for clinical purposes such asdiagnosing a child as obese in order to treat or refer for treatment. Described below are two recentdevelopments that may in time have widespread applicability for diagnosis of childhood obesity,but currently do not have an evidence base to assess for routine use. To assess their value willrequire evidence on external validity, particularly in relationship to morbidity and diagnosticutility.

n �International� cut-offs for BMI have recently been proposed for worldwide epidemiologicalcomparisons of childhood obesity prevalence.6 One UK study found that the ability of the�international� definition to identify the fattest children was poor (low sensitivity) comparedto the UK 1990 reference data for BMI.16

n Waist circumference has a role in diagnosis of adult obesity but there is no current evidence onits diagnostic value in childhood. At present it cannot be recommended as a means of diagnosingchildhood obesity, as there is no clear threshold for waist circumference associated withmorbidity outcome in children.

Research recommendation: A large, nationally representative, study of the diagnostic utility ofboth international cut-offs and waist circumference compared to the UK 1990 reference data forBMI should be performed.

D Obesity should be identified by objective (anthropometric) means.

C The Body Mass Index percentile should be used to identify childhood obesity.

An on line BMI calculator is available at: and is accompanied by advice on interpreting BMI in children:

These links were correct at the time of publication, but please check the SIGN website for updates.









The majority of published epidemiological work has used a definition of obesity as BMI ³95th

centile of the 1990 reference chart for age and sex and for comparative epidemiological purposesit is important to retain this definition. This definition has high specificity (it diagnoses few leanchildren as obese) but moderate sensitivity (that is, will fail to diagnose many of the fattestchildren as obese).15-28 As a diagnostic tool high specificity has been regarded as paramount sinceit reduces the likelihood that treatment will be offered to children who are not actually obese.8,11

The UK 1990 reference charts for BMI centiles for boys and girls give the 91st and 98th centilelines. For routine clinical use, the 98th centile is the recommended cut-off value defining obesity(see Annex 1). This is a pragmatic choice based on charts that are well accepted and widelyavailable, and in this context means the UK 1990 reference charts for BMI centiles for children.5

D For clinical use, obese children are those with a BMI ³98th centile of the UK 1990reference chart for age and sex.

þ For clinical use, overweight children are those with a BMI ³91st centile of the 1990reference chart for age and sex.

These clinical definitions conflict with the majority of international literature, which has used adefinition of BMI ³85th centile of reference data for overweight and BMI ³95th centile of referencedata for obesity. It is important to maintain epidemiological definitions which are consistent withcurrent literature. In future this may include the international cut-off values.6

D For epidemiological (research) purposes:n overweight should be defined as BMI ³85th centile of the 1990 reference datan obesity should be defined as BMI ³95th centile of the 1990 reference datafor age and sex.

þ The UK 1990 reference data for BMI in childhood5 are recommended for clinical andepidemiological practice in the UK. BMI should be plotted at the correct age on a sexappropriate chart.

See Annex 1 and


The term �BMI ³98th centile� is used throughout this guideline as a shorthand for BMI ³98th

centile of the UK 1990 reference chart.5


There is a worldwide concern about the increasing prevalence of obesity in childhood, as well asin adult life. By 1991, almost one in five children in the USA was overweight.32


There have been six recent British surveys of childhood obesity, three of which have been broadlynationally representative33-35 one regionally representative,36 and two surveys set in English towns.37,38

The only published Scottish prevalence data are found within the National Study of Health andGrowth.33,39 All have indicated a higher prevalence of obesity in childhood than expected from the1990 data for example; 11% of 6 year olds and 17% of 15 year olds in the Health Survey forEngland 1996 had a BMI >95th centile relative to the UK 1990 reference data.35

Research recommendation: A large, nationally representative, survey of obesity prevalence inScottish children urgently needs to be performed.







The prevalence of obesity has increased in British children.

An advantage of five of the surveys noted above34-38 is that they compare BMI in British children inthe period 1993 to1996 with the UK 1990 reference data.5 Given that only 5% and 2% ofchildren should be respectively above the 95th and 98th centiles, the increasing excess above theselevels suggest a marked secular trend to an increase in the prevalence of obesity. This is confirmedby the NSHG study,39 which has shown a marked increase in fatness (measured by triceps andsubscapular skinfold thicknesses) in English and Scottish schoolchildren from 1972 to 1994. Theincrease in obesity has also been demonstrated using the international cut-off values6 in a subsetof the NSHG data.33

Research recommendation: Ongoing national surveys of the prevalence of obesity in British childrenshould be conducted, with the UK 1990 reference data for BMI taken as the comparator.






3 Consequences of childhood obesity

Many good quality cohort or case control studies have addressed the relationship between obesityin child and adulthood and adverse cardiovascular events. The main body of evidence is from theUnited States. Only one European study was identified and no UK studies were found. With theexception of studies involving African-American or Far Eastern patients, all studies identified werefelt to be relevant and applicable to the Scottish population.



Cohort and case control studies provide good evidence of an association between childhoodobesity and cardiovascular and other risk factors. The at-risk population is large and is increasing,as illustrated by the �obesity epidemic� in the USA and the subsequent increase in the prevalenceof adolescent type 2 diabetes.40 Although studies contain little direct evidence regarding thebenefit of intervention and/or prevention, most infer that early intervention and/or preventionwould be beneficial.

There is much interest in differential risk for the cardiovascular and endocrine complications ofchildhood obesity amongst different ethnic populations in the UK. There is however, little highquality published evidence in childhood to date.41 American post mortem studies for examplehave demonstrated consequences of childhood obesity such as atherosclerosis42 and coronaryartery disease.

The main cardiovascular consequences of childhood obesity that occur during childhood aresubclinical coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.42-44

Several cardiovascular risk factors have been shown to be associated with childhood obesity;n increased blood pressure42,43,45

n adverse lipid profiles31,32,42,45-51

n adverse changes in left ventricular mass52

n hyperinsulinaemia.46,53,54

Cardiovascular risk factors in children and adolescents are also related to:n central adiposity31,32,54

n a family history of coronary artery disease.55

Childhood obesity is also associated with significant �clustering� of cardiovascular risk factors30,31

(where clustering is defined as the strong tendency for obese children to have more than onecardiovascular risk factor). As with adult obesity, clustering of risk factors increases risk.42

þ Healthcare professionals should be aware that the following risk factors for coronary arterydisease and atherosclerosis are relatively common in obese children and adolescents:

n increased blood pressuren adverse lipid profilesn changes in left ventricular massn hyperinsulinaemia.

For pragmatic reasons, measurement of blood pressure, lipids etc may only be possible followingreferral to secondary care (see section 5.2).


Obese children are more likely to show evidence of psychological distress than are non-obesechildren and the effect is greater for girls than boys.56,57 Obesity in childhood and adolescence isalso associated with poor self esteem,56,58 being perceived as unattractive,59 depression,60 disorderedeating57,61 bulimia and body dissatisfaction.62 Psychosocial distress and psychiatric disorders inchildren may be more associated with parental psychological/psychiatric problems than the child�sown BMI, age or sex.63






þ Obese children showing signs of distress and their families should be considered for referralfor psychological assessment and treatment.

See section 5.2.2 for additional referral advice.

Research recommendation: the prevalence and degree of psychological complications of obesityin children in the UK needs to be defined in a well designed cohort study.


Obesity in childhood may be a chronic inflammatory condition, as shown by increased levels ofC-reactive protein 64-66 and is associated with a number of potential comorbidities:

n the risk of developing asthma and the exacerbation of pre-existing asthma67-71

n abnormalities of foot structure and function72

n increased risk of type 1 diabetes.73


Obesity in childhood appears to predispose a child to medical problems as an adult.


In many of the studies evaluated, the consequences of childhood obesity for the adult werefrequently and reasonably extrapolated from risk associations in childhood. Evidence suggests thatrisk factors present in the child are carried into adulthood, in particular, effects on bloodpressure,43,42,74 lipid profiles30,31,42,46,74,75 and insulin and glucose synthesis.


A cohort study in Dutch men has demonstrated an increased 32-year mortality risk (relative risk1.95, confidence intervals 1.41 - 2.69) for men with BMI ³26 at age 18 years.76


Two good quality studies, one from the UK and one from the USA77,78 show adverse associationsbetween childhood obesity and educational attainment and income in women.


There does appear to be a tendency for childhood obesity to persist into adult obesity, although noevidence was identified to demonstrate a direct link between the two. This tendency is strengthenedwhen one parent is obese and further strengthened when both parents are obese. Cohort data alsosupport the existence of such a link.47,74,75,79,80 The likelihood of persistence of obesity to adulthoodincreases with age of the child and with severity of the obesity.29,81-83

C Prevention and treatment of obesity should be initiated in childhood.

C Parental obesity should be recognised as a risk factor for childhood obesity to persist intoadulthood.










4 Prevention


The search for evidence delineating subgroups of children in the UK at high risk of developingobesity focused on studies performed in the UK, so limiting culture and population specificfactors to those relevant in the UK. It was also confined to studies after 1990, when the �epidemic�of childhood obesity in the UK became obvious.33,35,39 Although obesity is a direct consequence ofcertain childhood syndromes (for example Prader-Willi syndrome) or childhood diseases (such ashypothyroidism), these account for a tiny proportion of obese British children, and were notconsidered further.


Only one published study in the UK has evaluated the relationship between prevalence of childhoodobesity (defined as BMI >98th centile) and deprivation (defined by Townsend score), and was asurvey of 5 to14 year olds from 1994 to 1996 in Plymouth.37 It found a significant relationshipbetween degree of deprivation and increased prevalence of childhood obesity.

4.1.2 GENDER

Two national surveys,33,35 two regional cohort studies,34,36 and two local studies37,38 have evaluatedthe relationship between gender and childhood obesity. None found any marked gender differencein the prevalence of obesity.

4.1.3 AGE

In three cohort studies and three surveys,33-38 obesity was found to be more prevalent with increasingage in British children.


No published, recent, UK study has evaluated the role of parental obesity as a risk factor forchildhood obesity in a cohort or cross-sectional survey.

4.1.5 DIET

No published UK study has evaluated the role of diet in a cohort of children prior to thedevelopment of obesity.


No published UK study has evaluated the role of physical activity in a cohort of children prior tothe development of obesity.


There is increasing evidence84,85 that physical inactivity, particularly increased TV viewing, is arisk factor for the development of obesity in children and adolescents. There are currently nopublished studies on this topic from the UK.


In the UK, the prevalence of obesity increases with age through childhood and adolescence, andthere is no evidence of any marked difference in prevalence between boys and girls. Limitedsurvey data suggest that the prevalence of obesity rises with increasing socioeconomic deprivation.No study has appropriately examined specific environmental factors, such as low habitual physicalactivity and inappropriately high habitual energy intake, which are believed to have causal roles inthe current epidemic of childhood obesity.

Research recommendation: There is a need for research on risk factors for obesity in contemporaryBritish children.








For an intervention to be effective in preventing childhood obesity, it must have been evaluated ina general population of children. Inclusion criteria for studies to be evaluated were both a randomisedcontrolled trial study design and a duration of follow up of the intervention of at least 12 months.These are different inclusion criteria than those of the Cochrane review of interventions for preventingobesity in children.86

Only four studies, three from the USA, fulfilled the inclusion criteria87-90 and cultural differencesmay limit their generalisability to British children. Most studied large numbers of school childrenand had complex intervention packages. Only one of these studies was of high methodologicalquality, the �Planet Health� trial.87 This was a complex intervention which focussed largely onchanging the school environment over two school years. The multiple interventions used in thesestudies included decreased television viewing, increased physical activity, decreased fat intake,increased fruit and vegetable intake, altered class curricula, and teaching of families, and wouldhave major resource implications for public health if replicated in full. In Planet Health there wasa significant reduction in obesity risk for girls (Absolute risk reduction 0.47, 95% ConfidenceIntervals 0.24-0.93) and a significant remission of existing obesity among girls (Absolute riskreduction 2.16, 95% Confidence Intervals 0.7-4.35). The trend in boys was in the same direction,but did not reach significance. The authors reported evidence that the effect observed was largelyattributable to observed reductions in television viewing. In the only British study, the onlypositive outcome was a modest increase in the consumption of vegetables.88

C School, family and societal interventions should be considered for the prevention of obesityin children.

Research recommendation: Large well designed (following the CONSORT principles)91 obesityprevention studies are urgently needed in the UK.






5 Treatment


For an intervention to be effective in the treatment of childhood obesity, it must be evaluated ina group that is already obese. Inclusion criteria for studies to be evaluated were both a randomisedcontrolled trial study design and a duration of follow up of the intervention of at least 12 months.

Eighteen RCTs that fulfilled the inclusion criteria were identified mainly from the USA.92-109 Eightof these trials came from the same research group and all 18 had major methodological flaws.

Common problems were lack of details about the randomisation process, lack of blinding, lack ofsample size calculation, very small numbers of subjects, differing treatments of groups other thanjust that treatment being investigated, high attrition rates, and lack of intention to treat analysis.Further, many diverse interventions were studied, although most fell into the categories of dietarymodification, exercise programmes, and behavioural management. The evidence however, doessuggest that reduction of energy intake by dietary change, and increasing energy expenditure byreducing sedentary behaviour, involvement in exercise programmes or alterations in lifestyle maylead to long term successful treatment for childhood obesity.

þ Increases in activity, through lifestyle changes and exercise, reduction in energy intake andreduction in sedentary behaviour should be considered for the treatment of obesity.

Research recommendation: Well designed intervention studies (following the CONSORTprinciples)91 among obese children are urgently needed in the UK.

Parents and health professionals may be concerned that treating childhood obesity increases therisk of developing eating disorders, but the evidence for such an association is equivocal. 110

Very few of the studies addressed family issues, especially family based behavioral change orsupport of the family during long term treatment. Given that many of the intervention packageswere complex, required multiple healthcare professionals, and were performed in specialisedNorth American clinics, the results may be neither generalisable nor applicable to the treatmentof childhood obesity in primary care in the UK.

Should practitioners focus on behavioural change; medical outcomes; weight loss or weightmaintenance? Whichever approach, or combination of approaches is taken, the importance ofprevention should not be neglected. Preventing obesity has many advantages given the limitedevidence on the efficacy of treatment, the limited resources available for treatments, and thestrong evidence of the adverse effects of child and adolescent obesity (see section 3).

Evidence in this area has been difficult to identify. In the absence of individual trials,recommendations were based on the advice of the US Expert Committee.11 Although this statementwas intended for the American population, in view of the high prevalence of overweight inchildren and young adults in Scotland and the potential clinical impact, it was felt reasonable togeneralise from this.


Most children managed in the community will have �simple� obesity with no underlying medicalcause, and many will not have comorbidity. The following recommendations are based on theadvice of the US Expert Committee.11 Treatment should only be offered under specific circ*mstances,as weight management programmes for those not ready to change are likely to be time consuming,futile, and may even be harmful.

D Treatment should only be considered where:n a child is defined obese (BMI ³98th centile) andn the child and family are perceived to be ready and willing to make the necessary

lifestyle changes.





For children who are overweight and most children who are obese, weight maintenance is anacceptable goal. In time it is hoped that, to some degree, overweight and obese children might�grow into their weight�.11 As a strategy, weight loss (as distinct from weight maintenance) shouldbe limited to those children being cared for by secondary care services.

D In most obese children (BMI ³98th centile) weight maintenance is an acceptable goal.

þ The benefits of weight maintenance should be demonstrated to families by charting weightover time on the BMI percentile chart.

D Weight maintenance and/or weight loss can only be achieved by sustained behaviouralchanges, eg:n healthier eating (see Annex 2)n increasing habitual physical activity (eg brisk walking) to a minimum of 30 mins

day. In healthy children, 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity/day hasbeen recommended111

n reducing physical inactivity (eg watching television and playing computer games) to<2 hours/day on average or the equivalent of 14 hours/week.

Possible approaches to implementing behavioural changes include:

n encouraging children and their families to make a few small, permanent changes in behaviourat a time

n developing family awareness of eating, activity, and parenting behavioursn encouraging a family to improve their monitoring of their eating and activity habits

(see section 6).

Practitioners may be asked to give advice on managing overweight children. As with obese children,weight maintenance is an acceptable goal for children who are overweight.

D In overweight children (BMI ³91st centile) weight maintenance is an acceptablegoal. Annual monitoring of BMI percentile may be appropriate to help reinforceweight maintenance and reduce the risk of children becoming obese.


Formal trials of the impact of different referral criteria are not easily carried out and only an expertcommittee statement was identified.

Following the advice of the US Expert Committee,11 the following criteria for referral to a hospitalgeneral paediatric or community clinic for children and young people are recommended.

D The following groups should be referred to hospital or community paediatric consultantsbefore treatment is considered:

n children who may have serious obesity-related morbidity that requires weight loss(eg benign intracranial hypertension, sleep apnoea; obesity hypoventilationsyndrome, orthopaedic problems and psychological morbidity)

n children with a suspected underlying medical (eg endocrine) cause of obesity includingall children under 24 months of age who are severely obese (BMI ³99.6th centile)

n all children with BMI ³99.6th centile (who are at higher risk of obesity-related morbidity)

þ Suspect an underlying medical cause of obesity if a child is obese and also short fortheir age.

See section 3.1.2 for advice on referral for psychological distress.







The primary purposes of referral are to exclude underlying medical causes of obesity and to treatcomorbidity. Most patients will not have an underlying medical cause and should be dischargedback to management in the community.

In patients with no underlying medical causes but with serious obesity-related comorbidity,treatment of the comorbidity may be indicated. In many cases (eg type 2 diabetes), such treatmentwill be enhanced by weight management. In secondary care, treatment should follow the principlesoutlined above, but weight loss, rather than weight maintenance may be the appropriate aim (seesection 5.2.1).

D For obese children over the age of seven years, who can demonstrate prolonged weightmaintenance and who are cared for by secondary care services, modest weight loss(no more than 0.5kg/month) is an acceptable goal.

þ Patients should be assessed for medical causes of obesity and existing comorbidities.Where these exist, weight loss is indicated, and specialist referral may be appropriate.

þ Where there is no underlying medical cause of obesity, patients should be referred back toprimary care with the maintenance/prevention message reinforced.

No formal assessment of the role of residential weight loss camps has been made due to a lack ofevidence which met inclusion criteria.

No evidence on drug or surgical treatment of paediatric obesity met inclusion criteria and no drugis licensed currently for the treatment of obesity in children in the UK.


6 Key messages for patients and parents

These key messages are not intended for direct dissemination to patients, but are provided forpossible use by clinicians in discussing treatment options with patients and their parents. Theymay be incorporated into local patient information materials.

See Annex 2 for advice on healthy eating and changing behaviour.

n Obesity in children is becoming more common.

n Obesity is due to an imbalance between energy consumption and energy expenditure. Obesechildren do not have low energy needs. They have high energy needs to support their high bodyweight.

n Obesity is a health concern in itself and also increases the risk of other serious health problemssuch as high blood pressure, diabetes and psychological distress.

n An obese child tends to become an obese adult.

n There is no evidence that any drug treatment is effective in treating obesity in children.

n Obesity in children may be prevented and treated by making lifestyle changes such as:

n increasing physical activity

n decreasing physical inactivity (eg TV watching)


n encouraging a well balanced and healthy diet

n Lifestyle change involves making small gradual changes to behaviour.

n Family support is necessary for treatment to succeed.

n Generally, the aim of treatment is to help children maintain their weight (so they can �grow into it�).

n A medical cause of obesity is more likely in the child who is obese and short for their age.

n Most children are not obese because of an underlying medical problem but as a result of theirlifestyle.




7 Development of the guideline


SIGN is a collaborative network of clinicians, other health care professionals, and patientorganisations, funded by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. SIGN guidelines are developed bymultidisciplinary groups of practising clinicians using a standard methodology based on a systematicreview of the evidence. Further details about SIGN and the guideline development methodologyare contained in �SIGN 50: A guideline developer�s handbook�, available at


Dr David Wilson Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Paediatric(Chairman) Gastroenterology and Nutrition, University of Edinburgh

and Royal Hospital for Sick Children, EdinburghDr David Alexander General Practitioner, DunfermlineMs Francesca Chappell SIGN Information OfficerDr Ann Dunbar General Practitioner, BordersDr Belinda Hacking Consultant Clinical Psychologist,

Lothian University Hospitals NHS TrustDr Cathy Higginson Research Specialist, Health Education Board ScotlandMs Christine Hinch Health Visitor, GlasgowDr Chris Kelnar Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist and Reader in Child

Health, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, EdinburghDr Zoe McDowell Senior House Officer, The Royal Hospital for Sick Children,

Yorkhill,GlasgowMrs Emily Methven Practice Nurse, LanarkshireDr Safia Qureshi Programme Director, SIGNDr Beth Rimmer Medical Prescribing Adviser to the Western IslesDr John Reilly Reader in Paediatric Energetics, The Royal Hospital for Sick

Children, Yorkhill,Glasgow and University of GlasgowMrs Laura Stewart Community Paediatric Dietitian,

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, EdinburghDr Carolyn Summerbell Reader in Human Nutrition, University of TeesideMrs Michelle Wilson Research Associate, University of Edinburgh and

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, EdinburghMr Mehran Zabihollah Health Economist, St Andrew�s University

The membership of the guideline development group was confirmed following consultation withthe member organisations of SIGN. There are no national support organisations for childhoodobesity, so no patient or family representatives could be included in the group. Declarations ofinterests were made by all members of the guideline development group. Further details areavailable from the SIGN Executive.



The evidence base for this guideline was synthesised in accordance with SIGN methodology. Asystematic review of the literature was carried out using an explicit search strategy devised by theSIGN Information Officer in collaboration with members of the guideline development group.The search for systematic reviews and meta-analysis covered the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE,EMBASE, CINAHL and HEALTHSTAR databases, and the internet, from January 1991 to December2001. The search for randomised controlled trials, cohort studies, case control studies, and cross-sectional surveys covered the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, PUBMED, EMBASE and CINAHLdatabases, and the internet, from January 1981 to December 2001. The evidence base was updatedduring the course of development of the the guideline, and the search was supplemented byreviewing references identified from papers from the searches, from personal databases, and fromhand searching of the obesity journals.



A national open meeting is the main consultative phase of SIGN guideline development at whichthe guideline development group presents its draft recommendations for the first time. The nationalopen meeting for this group was held on 18th September 2001. The meeting was attended by 218representatives of the key specialties relevant to this guideline, including mothers of children withobesity. The draft was also available on the SIGN website for a limited period at this stage toallow those unable to attend the meeting to contribute to the development of the guideline.


The guideline was also reviewed in draft form by a panel of independent expert referees, who wereasked to comment primarily on the comprehensiveness and accuracy of interpretation of theevidence base supporting the recommendations in the guideline. SIGN is very grateful to all ofthese experts for their contribution to this guideline.

Dr Jane Austin Community Paediatrician, Highland Primary Care NHS TrustProfessor Ian Booth Professor of Child Health, BirminghamMr Perry Burgess Community Dietitian, Borders Health BoardDr Deborah Christie Department of Child and Adolescent

Psychological Services, LondonProfessor Tim Cole Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics,

Institute of Child Health, LondonDr Peter Craig Research Manager, Chief Scientist Office, EdinburghDr William Dietz National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health

Promotion Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USADr Penny Gibson Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Adviser and

Consultant Paediatrician, LondonDr Gill Harvey Royal College of Nursing Institute, OxfordProfessor Roland Jung Chief Scientist, Scottish Executive, EdinburghMs Clare Keenan Dietitian, Tweed Horizon Centre, MelroseDr Margaret Lawson Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Child Health, LondonProfessor Mike Lean Professor of Human Nutrition, Glasgow Royal InfirmaryDr Adrian Lodge Consultant Psychiatrist, EdinburghDr Anita MacDonald Head of Research Dietetics, Birmingham Children�s Hospital.Ms Carole Noble Community Dietitian, Royal Cornhill Hospital, AberdeenMs Sue O�Meara Research Fellow, University of YorkDr Noelle O� Neil Clinical Effectiveness Co-ordinator,

Highland Health Board, InvernessProfessor Andrew Prentice Head, MRC International Nutrition Group, LondonProfessor Lawrence Weaver Professor of Child Health,

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow

Two general practitioners were also invited to review the draft guideline, but did notsubmit any comments.





As a final quality control check, the guideline is reviewed by an Editorial Group including therelevant specialty representatives on SIGN Council to ensure that the peer reviewers� commentshave been addressed adequately and that any risk of bias in the guideline development process asa whole has been minimised. The Editorial Group for this guideline was as follows:

Dr Keith Brown Royal College of PsychiatristsProfessor Gordon Lowe Chairman of SIGN, Co-editorDr Lesley Macdonald Faculty of Public Health MedicineDr Sara Twaddle Director of SIGN, Co-editorDr Peter Wimpenny National Nursing, Midwifery and

Health Visiting Advisory Committee

Each member of the guideline development group then approved the final guideline for publication.


Annex 1





Annex 2 Healthy eating and changing behaviours


The guidance presented in this annex is based upon the work of many experts (referenced in thetext) and should be considered equivalent to grade D recommendations.


Breast milk is the food of choice for newborn infants as it offers significant health benefits forbabies, for example, reduced risk of respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary tract and ear infections,allergy and asthma.112-115 Introduction of solid foods should be avoided until infants are at leastfour to six months of age.116,117 Weaning is best done gradually, starting with small amounts ofpureed fruit or vegetables, or rice or other gluten free cereal.

From six months the range of foods offered should be gradually increased. To ensure children upto the age of two consume adequate energy for growth and development in relatively smallvolumes of food, full fat versions of dairy products are recommended and starchy foods very highin fibre should be avoided. From two years gradual introduction of low fat dairy products shouldbe considered for children who are growing well and eating a varied diet, so that by the age of fivemost children are eating in accordance with the �Eating for Health� plate model. Children fromapproximately one year would normally be expected to eat three meals a day and two between-meal snacks. Foods particularly high in fat and sugar are not necessary.

Further information on nutrition from birth to 5 years is available in HEBS paper Evidence intoAction: Nutrition in the Under Fives (

This link was correct at the time of publication, but please check the SIGN website for updates.

Patient information leaflets about breastfeeding and weaning are available from the health promotiondepartment of the local NHS Board and local paediatric dietetic department. Patient informationleaflets are also available from the Paediatric Group of the British Dietetic Association, c/o 5thFloor, Charles House, 148/9 Great Charles Street, Queensway, Birmingham B3 3HT.


The figure overleaf makes healthier eating easier to understand by showing the types and proportionsof foods needed to make a well balanced and healthy diet. The patient, parents and health visitoror dietitian should discuss it.

This model applies to children over the age of five years, as well as to adults. It is recommendedthat foods eaten over a day be consumed in the relative proportions set out on the plate. In otherwords, approximately one third of a child�s intake by volume should comprise starchy carbohydratefoods, one third fruits and vegetables, with smaller amounts of foods from the meat, fish andalternatives group and low fat dairy products. Although not necessary for good health, fatty,sugary foods in small amounts can be part of a normal healthy diet. It is also important that fluidintake is adequate. Suitable drinks are water, low fat milk, very well diluted low calorie dilutingjuices and diluted fruit juice.

The following guidelines reflect the core elements of healthy eating and can be used to complementthe �Eating for Health� plate model:

n Eat regularlyn Include bread, pasta, cereals, rice or potatoes at every mealn Eat some form of fruit and vegetables at each mealn Limit foods high in sugar such as sweets and chocolaten Limit foods high in fat such as crisps, chips and pastriesn Limit fried foods (including deep fried foods).




Figure 1: The �Eating for Health� plate model



The way in which food is provided and used is also important. The following advice should beprovided, as appropriate, according to existing behaviours of the child/family in question, and atthe discretion of the individual health professional:

n Take plenty of exercise and limit time spent watching TV or playing computer gamesn Provide meals and snacks at regular times; avoid grazing all day longn Separate eating from other activities such as watching TV or doing schoolworkn Offer healthy options but agree one to two treats a weekn Encourage the child to listen to internal hunger cues and to eat to appetiten Instead of offering food as a reward to a child, try alternatives such as giving stickers, going to

the cinema, a new book or toy, or having a friend to stay overnightn Comfort with attention, listening and hugs instead of foodn Ask for help from friends and family in supporting behaviour changesn Keep foods that the child should be avoiding out of the housen Avoid classifying foods as good or badn The approach a parent takes to a child�s behaviour should always be consistent.

Further practical information for health professionals about healthy eating for children who areoverweight or obese is available from the HEBS website: Leaflets that have been produced by dietitians nationally will be availablefrom Scottish Nutrition & Diet Resources Initiative by spring 2003. For further information pleasecontact Alison Horne, Project Co-ordinator at [emailprotected] or visit the website

Activity and inactivity levels are important. Children should be encouraged to be less inactive byrestricting the amount of time spent on the telephone, watching TV and playing computer gamesto less than two hours per day.11


Children should be encouraged to be more physically active and aim for an average of 30 minutesof physical activity per day.104

This may include:

n walking instead of taking the busn using stairs instead of escalators or liftsn going for walks, visits to parks and playgroundsn swimming, cycling, rollerbladingn team activities such as football, dancing, Brownies/Cubs and Guides/Scoutsn attending PE lessons/outdoor education.





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þ Increases in activity, through lifestyle changes and exercise,reduction in energy intake and reduction in sedentary behaviourshould be considered for the treatment of obesity

D Treatment should only be considered where:

§ a child is defined obese (BMI ³98th centile)§ and the child and family are perceived to be ready and

willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes



D The following groups should be referred to hospital orcommunity paediatric consultants before treatment isconsidered:

§ children who may have serious obesity-related morbiditythat requires weight loss (eg benign intracranialhypertension, sleep apnoea; obesity hypoventilationsyndrome, orthopaedic problems and psychologicalmorbidity)

§ children with a suspected underlying medical (egendocrine) cause of obesity including all children under 24months of age who are severely obese (BMI ³99.6th centile)

§ all children with BMI ³99.6th centile (who may haveobesity-related morbidity)

þ Suspect an underlying medical cause of obesity if a child isobese and also short for their age



þ Healthcare professionals should be aware that the followingrisk factors for coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis arerelatively common in obese children and adolescents:

§ increased blood pressure§ adverse lipid profiles§ changes in left ventricular mass§ hyperinsulinaemia

þ Obese children showing signs of distress and their families shouldbe considered for referral for psychological assessment andtreatment

C § Prevention and treatment of obesity should be initiated inchildhood.

§ Parental obesity should be recognised as a risk factor forchildhood obesity to persist into adulthood


The Body Mass Index percentile should be used to identifychildhood obesity.


Obese children have a BMI ³98th centile of the UK 1990reference charts for age and sex


þ Overweight children have a BMI ³91st centile of the UK 1990reference charts for age and sex

þ The UK 1990 reference data for BMI in childhood arerecommended for clinical and epidemiological practice in theUK

BMI = weight in kilogrammesheight in metres2


Practitioners may be asked to give advice on managing overweightchildren. As with obese children, weight maintenance is anacceptable goal for children who are overweight.

D In most obese children (BMI ³98th centile) weight maintenanceis an acceptable goal.

þ The benefits of weight maintenance should be demonstrated tofamilies by charting weight over time on the BMI percentile

D Weight maintenance and/or weight loss can only be achievedby sustained behavioural changes, eg:

§ healthier eating§ increasing habitual physical activity (eg brisk walking) to a

minimum of 30 mins day. In healthy children, 60 minutesof moderate-vigorous physical activity/day has beenrecommended

§ reducing physical inactivity (eg watching television andplaying computer games) to <2 hours/day on average orthe equivalent of 14 hours/week.

D In overweight children (BMI ³91st centile) weightmaintenance is an acceptable goal. Annual monitoring ofBMI percentile may be appropriate to help reinforceweight maintenance and reduce the risk of childrenbecoming obese.

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines · the Body Mass Index (BMI: weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in metres: kg/m 2), with - [PDF Document] (2024)
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