Some medical experts are now encouraging overweight children to take controversial new anti-obesity drugs to combat childhood obesity, injectables which are quickly becoming known for their harmful side effects.
In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) issued new guidance on the treatment of obesity in children aged 12 and up, suggesting for the first time that surgical interventions as well as anti-obesity drugs may be necessary for early intervention.
“We now have evidence that obesity therapy is effective,” said Dr. Sandra Hassink at the time, the medical director of the APP Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. “There is treatment, and now is the time to recognize that obesity is a chronic disease and should be addressed as we address other chronic diseases.”
While diet and exercise are still recommended to treat obesity in children, doctors warned that “society” played a large role in just how fat a child could get.
“We can recommend more servings of vegetables and more fun physical activity. However, if a person’s neighborhood has no grocery stores to shop at or sidewalks or parks to walk in, these recommendations are not realistic,” argued Dr. Roy Kim, who serves as a paediatric endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio.
Two of the drugs approved for use in children were Wegovy and Saxenda, a new class of anti-obesity injectables known as GLP-1 agonists. Ozempic, another drug in the category that is not approved by the FDA for minors, has also been part of the wider national rollout of the drug type, with prescriptions tripling from 2021 to 2022.
All of the brands contain semaglutide, which is designed to mimic a hormone in the body that signals to the brain that the person’s stomach is full. The signal effectively “tricks” the brain into releasing insulin in order to lower blood sugar levels and appetite.
While data regarding the drug’s long-term effects in children is not yet available, the clinical trials that have been completed in adults show that once taken off the medication, patients gain back the weight they had lost. As a result, doctors are currently “counsel[ing] families that this is a long-term treatment,” according to Dr. Emily Breidbart, a pediatric endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
Despite experiencing an uptick in popularity, anti-obesity drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy have become controversial due to the reports of mild to severe side effects associated with the drugs.
In one clinical trial of Wegovy, 73% of adults who took the highest dose available reported “gastrointestinal issues,” with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea being the most common among them. More severe issues, such as acute kidney failure, are rare but have also been linked to semaglutide.
Dr. David Ludwig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, has attacked the AAP for switching their focus towards a pharmaceutical solution to obesity rather than focusing on diet and exercise.