A new study proves semaglutide can be just as effective with adolescents as it is with adults.
Semaglutide, a prescription hormone-mimicking medication that has been approved to help adults who are overweight or struggling with obesity lose weight also helps adolescents. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented during Obesity Week 2022 suggests that semaglutide can help teens lose weight, too, and have healthier hearts as a result.
In an international phase 3a clinical trial, the research team administered a once-weekly dose of semaglutide to adolescents with obesity, and compared to placebo, these individuals had a “16.1% decrease in their body mass index (BMI) while the BMI of those who took placebo rose by 0.6%,” the findings reveal.
“Rates of obesity are increasing, not just in the U.S., but all over the world,” said senior author Silva Arslanian, M.D., professor of pediatrics and clinical and translational science and Richard L. Day Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “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.”
How does the drug work? Semaglutide mimics a naturally occurring hormone in the body called glucagon-like peptide-1. It targets areas of the brain that reduce appetite. In 2021, the drug was approved for long-term weight management in adults.
To determine whether hormone-mimicking semaglutide would also be effective in the young population, researchers enrolled 201 adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years who were overweight or obese, gave them once-weekly subcutaneous injections of semaglutide 2.4 mg or the placebo, and administered concurrent lifestyle interventions to both groups which included nutrition and exercise counseling.
The results showed, “after 68 weeks, 72.5% of those who took semaglutide had achieved at least 5% weight loss compared to just 17% of those on placebo.”
“The results are amazing,” said Arslanian, who is also director of the Pediatric Clinical and Translational Research Center and scientific director of the Center for Pediatric Research in Obesity and Metabolism at Pitt and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “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.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity impacts nearly one in five children and adolescents globally. A study conducted in the U.S. by the agency from 2017-2020 showed, “Obesity prevalence was 26.2% among Hispanic children, 24.8% among non-Hispanic Black children, 16.6% among non-Hispanic White children, and 9.0% among non-Hispanic Asian children.”
Being chronically overweight can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, joint pain, and certain types of cancer. Teens who struggle with obesity are more likely to have severe mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
The research team concluded in their paper that not only did those who took the hormone-mimicking drug lose weight but, “participants who took semaglutide also had better weight-related quality of life measures, mostly due to a boost in physical comfort scores.”