Overweight teenagers could benefit from a drug used on adults with obesity, new research has indicated.

The drug semaglutide was given to a group of adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years with obesity or classed as overweight, helping them to reduce their body mass index (BMI) by just over 16% during the trial.

Professor of paediatrics, Dr Silva Arslanian, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said: “The results are amazing. 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.

“Rates of obesity are increasing, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. 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.”

Semaglutide mimics a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, helping to control eating by targeting parts of the brain that reduce appetite. The drug was approved in 2021 for weight management in adults.

This latest study sought to assess how effective the drug is in treating youths. Just over 200 participants received either weekly injections of semaglutide or placebo. All participants also received counselling on healthy nutrition and physical activity.

At 68 weeks, almost three-quarters of the adolescents who had received semaglutide had achieved at least 5% weight loss, in comparison to 17% of those receiving placebo.

Those receiving semaglutide also saw improvements in factors that may put them at risk of cardiovascular events, including waist circumference and blood sugar levels. Researchers also said it is the first obesity drug to be associated with improvements in quality of life, as participants reported better physical comfort scores.

Reducing obesity helps protect against serious illness including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, sleep apnoea and certain cancers.

Depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem are also common in adolescents with obesity.

Read the study in full in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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