The drugs Wegovy and Ozempic are all the rage for weight loss these days, and now a new study shows these injections may be game-changers for obese teenagers, too.

This trial, funded by drug maker Novo Nordisk, found that nearly half of all adolescents on semaglutide (Wegovy/Ozempic) were able to achieve a healthy weight in about 17 months.

Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which slows digestion, decreases hunger, reduces how much people eat and prompts weight loss. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Wegovy for treating obesity in kids and adults aged 12 years and older, while Ozempic has been approved at a lower dose to treat type 2 diabetes.

“Semaglutide appears to be highly effective in helping teens reduce their body mass index [BMI] to a level below the clinical cutoff for obesity,” said study author Aaron Kelly, co-director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, in Minneapolis. “Pharmacotherapy should be offered to all adolescents with obesity who are medically eligible.”

For the study, teens with high BMIs received either 2.4-mg of semaglutide weekly (the maximum dose) or a dummy (placebo) injection for 17 months. Everyone in the study was encouraged to exercise for 60 minutes a day and got advice about healthy eating.

Fully 45% of teenagers who took once-weekly semaglutide lost enough weight to drop below the clinical cutoff for obesity, meaning they moved to the normal weight or overweight category. By contrast, just 12% of the teens in the placebo group achieved that status.

These improvements were seen across gender and age, as well as in teens with severe obesity.

The side effects were in line with what has been seen in adults, Kelly said, with the most common being nausea and vomiting.

The study was published online recently in the journal Obesity.

Dr. Susma Vaidya is a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital’s Improving Diet, Energy, and Activity for Life Clinic, in Washington, D.C.

“We got really excited after the initial studies looking at semaglutide in teenagers, and this follow-up shows that almost 45% of teens taking semaglutide were able to achieve a normal or overweight BMI,” said Vaidya, who was not involved in the new study.

“This is great evidence of the importance and value of [weight-loss medication] in teens,” she added.

The study authors did find that kids who had an improvement of two or more BMI categories tended to be younger and had a lower weight, BMI and waist circumference than those who showed less improvement.

“This tells me that we need to think about using these medications earlier,” Vaidya said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics backs this up in its latest guidelines on childhood obesity treatment. They state that children with obesity should be evaluated and treated early and aggressively, including with medications.

It’s not just the weight loss, Vaidya said. “These kids also become healthier.”

The decision to take weight loss medication involves a careful discussion with your teen’s doctor. Factors that play a role include the presence of any obesity-related conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

“Candidates tend to have more severe obesity and have been working on their weight and are having a hard time keeping it off,” said Vaidya, who often prescribes Ozempic, not Wegovy, to teens as many insurers won’t cover obesity medication.

“I am more likely to get Ozempic covered,” she noted.

What happens when teens stop taking Ozempic?

“The expectation is when you stop taking the medication, you will gain the weight back,” Vaidya said. Exactly how soon this will happen or how much weight will return isn’t known as many factors affect weight regain.

Despite the promise of these drugs, there is no magic bullet for weight loss, she cautioned.

“The foundation is lifestyle changes including eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise,” she stressed.

More information

Learn more about weight loss for kids and teens at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SOURCES: Aaron Kelly, PhD, co-director, Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis; Susma Vaidya, MD, MPH, pediatrician, Improving Diet, Energy and Activity for Life (IDEAL) Clinic, Children’s National Hospital, Washington, D.C.; Obesity, July 9, 2023, online