- The FDA has approved the drug Wegovy (semaglutide) to treat childhood obesity.
- The news comes after a study found the weight-loss drug can help teens significantly lower their BMI.
- It works by suppressing appetite, which then reduces calorie intake and leads to weight loss.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the diabetes drug Wegovy (semaglutide) to treat teenage obesity, according to Novo Nordisk, the maker of Wegovy.
The news comes weeks after a study found the drug semaglutide was as effective for obesity and type 2 diabetes in obese adolescents as it was in obese adults.
The drug is injected once a week and is used under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy.
Wegovy has been approved for the treatment of children aged 12 and older, according to Novo Nordisk.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, found that obese teens who took the drug and implemented lifestyle interventions experienced a 16 percent reduction in body mass index (BMI) within 68 weeks .
The drug also led to improvements in cardiometabolic health problems.
Semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 analogue, is currently approved only for adults with obesity or obesity-related disorders. It works by suppressing appetite, which then reduces calorie intake and leads to weight loss.
The researchers say the new results shed light on a promising new treatment option for adolescents with obesity — especially at a time when the rate of childhood obesity is rising sharply.
“I am confident that this will be a real breakthrough. We need more studies to prove its effectiveness, as well as more insurance companies willing to adopt it,” said Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, told Healthline.
The researchers compared the effectiveness of semaglutide to placebo in 201 obese adolescents aged 12 to 17 years.
In the study, 134 of the participants received 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide subcutaneously once a week and followed lifestyle measures for 68 weeks. Of the total participants, 67 received placebo and adhered to lifestyle interventions for 68 weeks.
After the treatment period, the research team followed the participants’ health for a further seven weeks.
They found that those taking semaglutide experienced a 16.1% reduction in BMI compared to their baseline BMI. Those taking the placebo had a very slight increase in BMI.
In addition, 73% of those taking semaglutide lost at least 5% of their body weight compared to 18% of those taking the placebo.
They also experienced improvements in various cardiometabolic risk factors, including lipids, cholesterol, triglycerides, waist circumference, and glycated hemoglobin levels.
Those who took semaglutide and experienced weight loss also reported a better quality of life.
Similar to adults, the most common side effects of semaglutide in adolescents were gastrointestinal problems, but symptoms were mild and short-lived.
According to the researchers, the benefit of semaglutide was significantly greater than that of other weight-loss drugs approved for adolescents with obesity.
However, other studies comparing semaglutide to other teen weight loss drugs have not yet been conducted.
Current guidelines for young people with obesity recommend several lifestyle interventions. However, research has generally found that once obesity has set in, it is more difficult to achieve long-lasting weight loss results with lifestyle interventions
When young people are unable to achieve their weight loss goals through lifestyle interventions, pharmaceutical medications are available, but options are limited.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already approved three weight-loss drugs for teens with obesity — liraglutide (Victoza), orlistat (Alli, Xenical), and phentermine topiramate (Qsymia).
“Apart from lifestyle interventions, there aren’t many other options – apart from medications that are only used for very specific medical indications,” says Dr. Daniel Ganjian, pediatrician at Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Posner says the results are exciting, but should be interpreted with caution because the study was not conducted in an ethnically diverse population and the drug was not thoroughly tested in young people with type 2 diabetes.
“We’re going to need more studies that include these groups as well, but we might finally have some help for teens who are obese and really struggling with weight loss,” Posner said.
Ganjian says it’s refreshing to hear that scientists may have found a new treatment that works well.
This brings us one step closer to tackling the obesity epidemic, he adds.
More research is needed to understand the drug’s side effects and effectiveness in different ethnic groups.
“Scientists can then study this drug further and formulate better next-generation drugs,” Ganjian said.
The FDA has approved a type 2 diabetes drug to treat obesity in adolescents ages 12 and older.
The news comes a week after a recent study found that semaglutide, a drug for obesity and type 2 diabetes, is as effective in obese adolescents as it is in obese adults. The researchers say the new results shed light on a promising new treatment option for adolescents with obesity.
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