Ethics of Implementing US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations for Childhood Obesity.

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Childhood obesity represents a serious and growing concern for the United States. Its negative consequences for health and well-being can be far-reaching, devastating, and intergenerational. In 2017, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a grade B recommendation for screening children and adolescents for obesity and offering or referring to comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions as indicated. However, many communities in the United States have limited access to such interventions. The USPSTF’s mission is to review and grade research evidence for clinical preventive services and does not include cost or population-based operationalization and implementation logistics considerations for its recommendations. Yet implementing recommendations without considering cost and operationalization may lead to equity and access challenges. These are essential considerations, but oversight of the implementation of these recommendations is not standardized or assigned to any one agency or organization. As such, a central ethical feature inherent to the implementation of USPSTF recommendations calls for stakeholder collaborations to take on the next step beyond the establishment of evidence-based recommendations: to ensure the ethical application of such guidelines across diverse populations. Furthermore, the screening-intervention relationship inherent to this USPSTF recommendation raises ethical concerns regarding US societal norms surrounding obesity, particularly when contrasted against other screening-intervention modalities. More efforts, such as increased incentives or expansion of clinical services in low-resource areas, should be taken to facilitate this recommended intervention by expanding access to childhood obesity interventions to fulfill ethical responsibilities to equity and to ensure the right to open futures for children.

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Authors: Hunter Jackson Smith, Joy I Piotrowski, Stephanie Zaza