Weight-loss drug leads to lower body mass index in obese teenagers, study finds

Weight-loss drug leads to lower body mass index in obese teenagers, study finds

Weight-loss drug leads to lower body mass index in obese teenagers, study finds

Semaglutide — a drug in the hit anti-obesity drug Wegs — plus a lifestyle intervention led to “significant reductions” in the body mass index of obese teenagers after more than a year of weekly treatments, researchers reported Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Wegovy is currently only available by prescription for adults in the US. A new study examined whether it could work in adolescents.

“Man, does it ever work,” said NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.

The study involved 201 obese participants in the US and other countries who were between the ages of 12 and 17 and were randomly assigned to receive a once-weekly injection of semaglutide or a placebo. The dose of the drug was the same as the dose approved for adults.

Both groups also received a lifestyle intervention consisting of dietary and physical activity counseling for weight loss before and during the study.

After 16 months of this routine, the teenagers in the semaglutide group lost an average of nearly 15% of their body weight, or about 34 pounds, while the children in the control group gained about 5 pounds.

“Not only did they lose weight, they had an improvement in their waist circumference, they improved their cholesterol,” Azar said. It was also one of the first studies to look at how teenagers’ quality of life improved as they lost weight, “and it improved dramatically,” she noted. “That extra weight can have a significant impact on their social development.”

The research was funded by Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical giant that makes Wegovy.

Emmalea Zummo, a 17-year-old from Jeannette, Pennsylvania, was one of the teenagers in the study who received semaglutide. She weighed 250 pounds at baseline, a weight gain associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, and lost more than 70 pounds during the trial.

Weight-loss drug leads to lower body mass index in obese teenagers, study finds

Emmalea Zummo (Courtesy of Emmalea Zummo)

“I felt better in my own skin, which is something I’ve never felt before,” she told NBC News.

The safety profile of semaglutide among obese teenagers in the trial was consistent with that seen in adults, the researchers wrote. The drug “did not appear to affect growth or pubertal development,” they noted.

“There are no problems with development, but every drug has side effects. The main side effects of this class of drugs are GI (gastrointestinal) — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,” Dr. Silva Arslanian, scientific director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity and Metabolic Research at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, told TODAY. She is a co-author of the study.

“None of our participants had any learning disabilities. But of course, it’s very individual.”

Almost two-thirds of teens taking semaglutide, 62%, experienced gastrointestinal side effects, compared with 42% of teens taking placebo.

Semaglutide is in a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists and works by mimicking the natural hormone the body releases when a person eats food. This hormone targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake. Researchers believe that its action in the brain helps people feel full earlier, so they eat less than usual.

It works better for weight loss in obese teenagers than lifestyle intervention alone for several reasons, including the fact that hunger and satiety trigger the central nervous system, Arslanian said.

Also, “we live in an obese environment where healthy lifestyle choices are not so easy to implement… (and) healthy routine daily physical activity has been replaced by screen-based activities that don’t burn calories,” she noted.

The teenagers had no difficulty self-injecting drugs, “but if you know or have teenagers, parents usually have to monitor or remind them no matter what life tasks they’re doing,” Arslanian noted.

The drug is expensive, about $1,300 a month, and health insurance often does not cover obesity drugs. Patients must continue taking it for it to work, or they may regain the weight they lost.

When asked if there was any concern about young patients starting this drug so early in life and taking it indefinitely, Arslanian said, “This is a very good question that’s on everyone’s radar. I am sure that with further scientific progress we will be able to find a solution.”

Semaglutide has been in the news a lot lately. It is also an active ingredient in Ozempic, a prescription drug for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and Wego’s sister drug. Ozempic is not approved for weight loss, but many people who do not have diabetes use it off-label — the practice of taking an approved drug for an unapproved use — and credit it for their weight loss success.

Demand for both drugs affects supplylMr. The US Food and Drug Administration lists Wegovy and Ozempic as “currently in short supply” on its website.

Novo Nordisk faces Wegovy supply shortages due to “unprecedented product demand and short-term production issues,” the company noted on its website. They asked doctors to delay starting the drug for new patients for now, but said they are on track to have all dosage strengths available in the US by the end of this year.

FDA approval for the use of semaglutide for weight loss in obese teenagers could come in 2023, Azar said.

This article was originally published on DANAS.com

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