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How Healthy Are You?

Obesity Is Crushing the Young

New Drug Trials Offer Hope

New weight-loss drug may help treat obesity in children.

By John Salak –

 

Obesity is already a deadly issue in the U.S. Now, however, childhood and adolescent obesity is becoming an enormous and growing problem, no pun intended.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest report notes that about 30 percent of children between the ages of two and 19 are overweight, and almost 20 percent are obese. The percentage of grossly overweight young people is only likely to increase in the coming years if the current forces remain in place. It will undoubtedly lead to a range of short- and long-term health issues for these individuals, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea and joint problems.

There are several factors increasing obesity among the young, including genetics. But other reasons include an increase in junk food consumption, greater intake of sugary drinks, lack of structured and ad hoc physical activity and the growing temptation to engage in indoor sedentary activities, such as watching television, playing video games and working on computers, according to government reports.

The weight of these combined factors makes reversing child and adolescent obesity a formattable challenge. Lifestyle and nutritional changes are essential to any long-term solution. However, there may also be help from a new drug called Semaglutide, which has helped adults offset overweight and obesity issues.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions now believe it can successfully apply to help adolescents shed pounds. It is critical since they suffer from some of the highest levels of obesity among the young.

Clinical trials demonstrate that obese adolescents who received a once-weekly dose of Semaglutide compared to a placebo had a 16.1 percent decrease in their body mass index (BMI). Those who took the placebo recorded a 0.6 percent increase in BMI.

“Rates of obesity are increasing, not just in the U.S., but all over the world,” reported Dr. Silva Arslanian, a senior author of the study and a professor of pediatrics and clinical and translational science 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 hard to make those changes. There is a real need for safe and effective medications to treat obesity.”

Semaglutide might answer these environmental challenges because it mimics a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, which targets areas of the brain that decrease appetite. Approval of this drug for chronic weight management in adults happened in 2021.

The Pittsburgh-based study involved 201 adolescents with obesity issues. The participants not only received a placebo or injection of Semaglutide, but they also got counseling on healthy nutrition and physical activity. After 68 weeks, 72.5 percent of those receiving Semaglutide achieved at least a 5 percent weight loss compared to 17 percent of those on placebo.

“The results are amazing,” said 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.”

Semaglutide participants also improved cardiovascular risk factors, including waist circumference, a blood sugar metric called HbA1c, total, low-density and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides and liver enzymes compared with the placebo group. There was, however, no statistically significant difference in blood pressure or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol between the two groups.

While promising and already approved for adults, it is unclear when Semaglutide could get approval for children and adolescents.

 

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