Ozempic, Wegovy and Obesity in Adolescents: the Pros and Cons

America’s appetite (no pun intended) for weight-loss drugs is only growing.

Prescriptions for and online searches of semaglutide sold under the brands Ozempic and Wegovy have been surging in popularity for managing obesity, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for everyone. Let’s delve into the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of Ozempic in adolescent obesity management, including the proof and what to take into consideration. 

The Good: Ozempic as a Potential Solution

Ozempic is a medication primarily approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in adults. However, its use for obesity management has been explored due to its positive effects on weight reduction. Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. These drugs work by mimicking the effects of a natural hormone that regulates blood sugar and appetite.

In December 2022, the FDA approved Wegovy as a treatment for teenagers with obesity, which affects 22% of 12-to-19-year-olds in the United States. While the expansion of semaglutide’s approval is exciting, it’s important to note that there is limited data available regarding its use in adolescents beyond the trial, funded by drug maker Novo Nordisk, which found that “nearly half of all adolescents on semaglutide (Wegovy/Ozempic) were able to achieve a healthy weight in about 17 months.”

According to the study author Aaron Kelly, co-director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis,

“Semaglutide appears to be highly effective in helping teens reduce their body mass index [BMI] to a level below the clinical cutoff for obesity”.

The Bad: Limited Data on Adolescents

While the expansion of semaglutide’s approval is exciting, research on the safety and efficacy of this medication in younger individuals is limited. Adolescents are still growing, and their bodies undergo significant changes, making it crucial to approach treatment options with caution. Taking this medication at such a young age could pose serious risk, especially because the long-term physical and mental-health effects are still unknown.

Additionally, there is the potential to gain the weight back when you stop the medication.  Exactly how fast or how much weight will return is not known as many factors can affect the weight regain especially as adolescent bodies are changing.

The Ugly: Safety and Age Considerations

Safety is a paramount concern when considering any medication for adolescents, and Ozempic is no exception. Potential side effects, such as gastrointestinal disturbances, hypoglycemia, and pancreatitis, need to be carefully assessed in this age group. Long-term safety and effects on growth and development are areas that warrant extensive investigation. More research will also be needed to evaluate if taking these medications create any psychological issues like eating disorders down the lane for adolescents, or may even help treat those.

A Promising Avenue with Caution

In the world of medicine, especially when dealing with adolescents, the introduction of new treatments should be approached with caution and thorough research. If you are an adolescent or a parent concerned about obesity, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide guidance on suitable treatment options. Lifestyle modifications, including diet and physical activity, should remain the foundation of obesity management in this age group. Any medication, including Ozempic or Wegovy, should be considered only after careful evaluation of the potential benefits and risks.

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