A misappropriated type 2 diabetes drug helped obese teenagers lose a significant amount of body weight, lower their risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improve their weight-related quality of life over a 68-week clinical trial, the researchers said reported this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The drug is Semaglutide (brand name Wegovy), which was first approved in 2017 to treat type 2 diabetes, but has since been approved proven useful for weight loss in adults who are obese or overweight. The drug works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake, the Food and Drug Administration said while publicizing its use for weight loss approved in adults.
The new data suggests that it can also significantly help teenagers struggling with obesity and overweight problems improve their health and outlook as they progress into adulthood. One in five children and adolescents in the US has obesity, which can lead children to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and joint problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of course, semaglutide isn’t a magic cure for obesity, which is a complex, multifactorial, chronic disease. The researchers note that some teens regained a small amount of weight at a seven-week follow-up after the 68-week treatment, suggesting they may need to take the drug to maintain their weight loss. It’s also unclear how long a person can take the drug while still seeing weight loss. Still, the drug could be a useful new tool in the fight against an intractable, progressive disease.
In the phase 3 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study reported this week, researchers had adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 take a weekly injection of 2.4 mg of semaglutide for 68 weeks.
Of the 201 teenagers who took part in the study, 133 obese teenagers and one overweight teenager were treated with semaglutide, while 67 received a placebo. Both groups, along with their parents and guardians, were also given advice on healthy eating and exercise.
The drug appeared to be generally safe, with some gastrointestinal side effects – nausea, vomiting and diarrhea – appearing mainly in the early stages of treatment, which tended to decrease over the weeks.
After 68 weeks, people treated with semaglutide lost an average of about 15 percent of their original weight — about 34 pounds. In the placebo group, the teens gained about 3 percent of their original weight — about 5 pounds. The mean change in BMI (body mass index) was -16 percent in the treatment group and +0.6 percent in the placebo group.
In the treatment group, 73 percent lost at least 5 percent of their weight, 62 percent at least 10 percent, and 37 percent at least 20 percent. Treated teenagers also saw reductions in clinically important cardiovascular risk factors, including lower waist circumference, total cholesterol and triglycerides, which were not seen in the placebo group. Most recently, the treated teenagers reported improvements in their quality of life in terms of physical well-being.
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