Practice Alert

USPSTF update: New and revised recommendations

Behavioral interventions for obese kids and teens can improve weight for up to a year, and a new analysis reverses previous advice on scoliosis screening.


From The Journal of Family Practice | 2018;67(5):294-296,298-299.


Over the past year the US Preventive Services Task Force made 14 recommendations on 12 conditions (TABLE 11-12). One of these pronouncements was the unusual reversal of a previous “D” recommendation against screening for scoliosis in adolescents, changing it to an “I” statement (insufficient evidence).

Recent recommendations from the USPSTF image

Affirmative recommendations

Four interventions were given an “A” or “B” recommendation this past year. Both grades signify a recommendation to perform the service, with “A” reflecting a higher level of certainty or a higher level of net benefit than “B.”

Recommend folic acid to prevent neural tube defects (A)

The evidence is very strong that folic acid intake prevents neural tube defects. In 2009 the Task Force recommended folic acid supplementation for women of childbearing age. In 2017 this recommendation was updated and slightly reworded to advise that all women who are planning a pregnancy or capable of becoming pregnant take a daily supplement containing 0.4 mg to 0.8 mg (400-800 mcg) of folic acid.

In the United States many grain products have been fortified with folic acid since 1996. This step has reduced the prevalence of neural tube defects from 10.7 cases per 10,000 live births to 7 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011.1 However, in spite of food fortification, most women in the United States do not consume the recommended daily amount of 0.4 mg (400 mcg) of folic acid. This supplementation is most important from one month before conception through the first 3 months of pregnancy.

Screen for obesity in children and adolescents (B)

Nearly 17% of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years in the United States are obese, and almost 32% are overweight or obese.2 Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) ≥95th percentile, based on year-2000 growth charts published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight is defined as a BMI between the 85th and 94th percentiles.

Obesity in children and adolescents is associated with many physical problems, including obstructive sleep apnea, orthopedic problems, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes, as well as psychological harms from being teased and bullied. Obesity that continues into adulthood is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and orthopedic problems.

Perform vision screening in all children 3 to 5 years of age to detect amblyopia or its risk factors.

The Task Force found that intensive behavioral interventions for obesity in children ≥6 years of age and in adolescents can lead to moderate improvements in weight status for up to 12 months. Intensive behavioral inter­ventions need to include at least 26 contact hours over 2 to 12 months. The recommendation statement includes a more detailed description of the types of programs that have evidence to support them.2

The Task Force did not recommend the use of either metformin or orlistat because of inadequate evidence on the harmful effects of metformin and because of sound evidence that orlistat causes moderate harms, such as abdominal pain, cramping, incontinence, and flatus.

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