Wegovy (semaglutide) has been shown to cause large reductions in body weight in teens who take the weight-loss drug, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Wegovy is a reformulation of the type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic (semaglutide), which was approved in 2017 for blood glucose control. Further studies showed that people with obesity who took the drug for diabetes ended up losing substantial amounts of weight, prompting the manufacturer of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, to test its effectiveness as a weight-loss treatment at a higher dose. Wegovy was approved for adults with obesity in 2021 as a weekly injection of 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide, while Ozempic is approved to treat type 2 diabetes as a weekly injection of 0.5 milligrams, 1 milligram, or — since earlier this year — 2 milligrams of semaglutide. As a weight-loss treatment for adults, Wegovy has been shown to be the most effective drug on the market — with over half of participants who took the drug losing at least 15% of their body weight in a recent study.
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The latest study was designed to see if Wegovy could be a similarly effective weight-loss drug for teens with overweight or obesity. A total of 201 participants ages 12 to 17 were enrolled in the study, all of them overweight or obese — with overweight defined as being in the 85th percentile of body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account), and obesity defined as being in the 95th percentile of BMI. Participants were randomly assigned at a 2-to-1 ratio to take either Wegovy (2.4 milligrams of semaglutide) or a placebo (inactive injection) weekly for 68 weeks, and all participants took part in a lifestyle intervention that included meetings with a dietitian.
Wegovy effective for weight loss in teens
All but one of the 180 participants who completed the study had obesity at the beginning, rather than just overweight. After 68 weeks, participants who took Wegovy experienced an average drop in BMI of 16.1%, compared with a 0.6% increase in BMI in the placebo group. Out of 131 participants in the Wegovy group who finished the study, 95 (73%) lost at least 5% of their body weight, compared with 11 out of 62 participants (18%) in the placebo group — making members of the Wegovy group 14 times as likely to reach this weight loss threshold. Members of the Wegovy group also saw their waist circumference shrink as they lost weight, indicating that their weight loss came largely from unhealthy abdominal fat.
Gastrointestinal symptoms were reported in 62% of the Wegovy group and 42% of the placebo group, showing that Wegovy does carry an increase risk for digestive issues. Serious adverse events were reported in 11% of the Wegovy group and 9% of the placebo group, almost no difference.
The researchers concluded that in combination with a lifestyle intervention, Wegovy led to much greater weight loss and BMI improvement than the lifestyle intervention alone. It is overwhelmingly likely that these results will be used by Novo Nordisk to seek approval of Wegovy as a weight-loss treatment in adolescents ages 12 to 17.