Proposed changes to obesity guidelines may harm children in the US

Expanding definitions of obesity may harm children, BMJ Vol. 332, p. 1412

New guidelines on obesity in the U.S. may end up harming children, says an article in this week's BMJ. And an accompanying article goes on to question the financial links between the organisation promoting these proposals and the pharmaceutical industry. If implemented, the proposals would see many more children classified as overweight or obese - and thus eligible for treatment with obesity drugs.

The article outlines how an influential expert committee of the American Medical Association has "tentatively decided" to reclassify obesity definitions. This will result in healthy children being categorized as medically overweight or obese, says the author, and mean that approximately a quarter of toddlers and two fifths of children aged 6-11 in America will be classed as having the disease.

The author of the articles is Ray Moynihan, who has previously written about drug companies promoting an increasing reliance on medications to the public. His report reveals that the U.S. proposals have been greeted with alarm by some senior public health academics who have written to the committee. Dr. Jenny O'Dea from the University of Sydney, for instance, warned that labelling children as overweight or obese can lead to stigmatization, eating problems and avoidance of exercise.

Mr. Moynihan points out that one of the prime movers behind the proposed changes being considered by the expert committee is Dr. William Dietz, a senior member of the International Obesity Task Force. In the second article Mr. Moynihan reveals how the high profile and highly influential Task Force, which has close ties to the World Health Organisation, was set up in the mid-1990s with the help of grants from three drug companies and continues to benefit from drug company sponsorship.

Now merged with another international obesity forum, the Task Force gets two thirds of its funding from pharmaceutical giants Roche and Abbott. Roche makes the anti-obesity drug Xenical (orlistat), and Abbott makes the appetite suppressant Reductil (sibutramine hydrochloride). Over recent years, the article states, drug company sponsorship is likely to have amounted to "millions."

The Task Force has responded to Mr. Moynihan's questions about its funding, saying that it has made no secret of the grants it has received from drug companies and emphasising that an internal ethical scrutiny system ensures independence from sponsors.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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