PITTSBURGH — Childhood obesity is on the rise globally, and especially in the United States. More kids and teens are also starting to suffer from obesity-related complications like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The good news is that a drug approved for adults who are overweight or obese, called semaglutide, can aid weight loss among adolescents as well, according to new research.
Currently, one in five children and adolescents are obese worldwide. This reduces their quality and length of life and puts them at higher risk of an array of serious illnesses. Further, teens with obesity also tend to experience greater rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
“Typically, we make lifestyle recommendations: Eat more vegetables; don’t eat fried food; don’t drink soda. But unfortunately, we live in a very obesogenic environment, so it can be very hard to make those changes. There is a real need for safe and effective medications to treat obesity,” explains Silva Arslanian, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and clinical and translational science and the Richard L. Day Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in the university release.
How does semaglutide lead to significant weight loss?
This is where semaglutide comes into the picture. The drug works by mimicking glucagon-like peptide-1, a hormone that targets areas of the brain responsible for curbing appetite, thus helping people have more control over their eating. In the past year, health officials approved the drug for use in chronic weight management care in adults.
To determine if similar effects were possible among adolescents, University of Pittsburgh researchers recruited 201 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 who were obese or overweight. They received either subcutaneous injections of semaglutide 2.4 mg once a week or a placebo. Additionally, they all received diet and lifestyle intervention counseling, focusing on nutrition and increasing physical activity.
The team found that after 68 weeks, 72.5 percent of those receiving semaglutide were able to see at least a five-percent reduction in weight when compared to the placebo group, where only 17 percent experienced noticeable weight loss. Further analysis demonstrated that semaglutide participants showed improvement in cardiovascular risk factors such as waist circumference, blood sugar markers, cholesterol and lipid markers, as well as liver enzymes compared with placebo participants. The only markers that did not generate statistically significant findings were high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
“The results are amazing,” says Arslanian. “For a person who is 5 foot, 5 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds, the average reduction in BMI equates to shedding about 40 pounds.”
The team emphasizes that semaglutide is the first drug of its kind to lead to such great improvements in quality-of-life among adolescents with obesity, showing great promise for future weight loss treatments.
The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.