The popularity of weight loss drugs Wegovy and Ozempic is soaring, and recent research suggests that these injections could be revolutionary for obese teenagers as well.
A trial, funded by the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, has revealed that nearly half of all adolescents who received semaglutide (Wegovy/Ozempic) were able to attain a healthy weight in approximately 17 months.
Semaglutide functions as a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which slows down digestion, suppresses appetite, reduces food intake, and facilitates weight loss. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for Wegovy to be used in treating obesity among individuals aged 12 and above, while Ozempic has been approved in a lower dosage for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
According to Aaron Kelly, co-director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and the study’s author, “Semaglutide seems to be remarkably effective in helping teenagers lower their body mass index [BMI] to a level below the clinical threshold for obesity. Pharmacotherapy should be made available to all eligible adolescents with obesity.”
During the study, teenagers with elevated BMIs were administered either a maximum weekly dose of 2.4 mg of semaglutide or a placebo injection for a period of 17 months. All participants in the study were encouraged to engage in 60 minutes of daily exercise and were provided with guidance on maintaining a healthy diet.
A significant finding of the study reveals that 45% of teenagers who received once-weekly semaglutide experienced enough weight loss to transition below the clinical cutoff for obesity, thereby moving into the normal weight or overweight category. In comparison, only 12% of teenagers in the placebo group achieved this outcome.
These positive outcomes were observed across different genders, ages, and among teenagers with severe obesity.
The side effects reported were consistent with those observed in adults, with the most common being nausea and vomiting. The study, which has recently been published in the journal Obesity, highlights the significance of weight-loss medication in teenagers. Dr. Susma Vaidya, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital’s Improving Diet, Energy, and Activity for Life Clinic in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, expressed enthusiasm about the results. She stated, “We got really excited after the initial studies looking at semaglutide in teenagers, and this follow-up shows that almost 45% of teens taking semaglutide were able to achieve a normal or overweight BMI. This is great evidence of the importance and value of [weight-loss medication] in teens.”
The study authors also noted that younger individuals with lower weight, BMI, and waist circumference tended to experience greater improvements of two or more BMI categories. This suggests the potential benefit of initiating medication earlier in the treatment process.
The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics support the early and aggressive evaluation and treatment of childhood obesity, including the use of medications.
Dr. Vaidya emphasized that it’s not just about weight loss but also about improving the overall health of these teenagers. Weight loss medications can contribute to better health outcomes.
The decision to pursue weight loss medication for teenagers should be made through careful discussions with their doctor, taking into account factors such as the presence of obesity-related conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
When it comes to insurance coverage, Ozempic is more likely to be covered than Wegovy for teenagers, according to Dr. Vaidya, who frequently prescribes Ozempic.
Regarding the discontinuation of Ozempic, it is expected that weight regain will occur once the medication is stopped. The timing and amount of weight regained vary due to various factors.
Dr. Vaidya cautioned that despite the promise of these drugs, there is no magic solution for weight loss. She stressed the importance of foundational lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.