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Wegovy fuels sharp rise in use of weight-loss drugs for USA youth

A small but rapidly growing number of U.S. adolescents began treatment with Novo Nordisk's <NOVOb.CO> weight-loss drug Wegovy last year, a powerful new tool to address record rates of pediatric obesity, according to data shared exclusively with Reuters. 

In the first 10 months of 2023, 1,268 children ages 12 to 17 with an obesity diagnosis started taking Wegovy, according to U.S.A. insurance claims data compiled by health technology company Komodo Health.

In 2022, only 25 children were prescribed the drug, which did not receive U.S. approval for adolescent use until December of that year. A month later, the influential American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that weight-loss drugs be offered to children with obesity starting at age 12.

Medicaid data obtained by Reuters from five states, including Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, show a similar uptick in use of Wegovy. The overall numbers remain small, with at least 464 children across the five states being prescribed the drug since January 2022.

That does not include prescriptions bought without health insurance, or off-label use of two similar treatments for type 2 diabetes, Ozempic from Novo and Mounjaro from Eli Lilly.
Even so, they are a drop in the bucket as nearly 20% of U.S.A. children, or about 14.7 million, have obesity, according to federal estimates.

However, the data indicate an increasing willingness among families to embrace Wegovy, the first highly effective treatment for obesity, short of surgery. Use of the weekly injection can involve great cost, with limited data on long-term risks and benefits.

"I use these medications wherever I can. Unlike with adults, where it’s like a rescue operation, we are much more likely with children and adolescents to prevent disease," said Dr. Suzanne Cuda, medical director of Alamo City Healthy Kids and Families in San Antonio, Texas. Cuda was an adviser to Novo Nordisk on pediatric obesity.
Obesity has been linked to many serious health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

In prior years, a much smaller number of adolescents were prescribed Novo’s Saxenda, which was approved for adult weight loss in 2014 and for adolescents in 2020.
Saxenda works in a similar way to curb appetite as Wegovy, but results in less weight loss on average. Both belong to a class of therapies known as GLP-1 agonists.
There were 378 adolescents prescribed Saxenda in the first 10 months of 2023, the Komodo data show. That was down from 567 patients who started to use the medication in 2022. From 2018 to 2021, 266 adolescents received new Saxenda prescriptions. 

Both Novo and Eli Lilly are testing their weight-loss drugs in children as young as 6. Lilly's drug, tirzepatide, is only approved for adults in the U.S.A. under the brand name Mounjaro for type 2 diabetes and Zepbound for weight loss.
Lilly said it couldn’t comment on "future plans for tirzepatide in children or adolescents as clinical trials are still ongoing."
Novo said there are about 175 million children and adolescents with obesity worldwide, and for some, a reduced-calorie diet and increased exercise may not be enough.