Around the world, the most prevalent chronic disease among children and teens is obesity. In recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5% of children and adolescents were affected by obesity in the United States—approximately 13.7 million cases.

Researcher Aaron Kelly, PhD, professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics, co-director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine and the Minnesota American Legion and Auxiliary Chair in Children’s Health, authored a study on a new pediatric obesity medication, liraglutide, which may help adolescents with obesity better manage their weight.

"Obesity is a serious, chronic and progressive disease affecting around 107.7 million children and adolescents worldwide and drives the risk of them developing other health problems," Dr. Kelly said. 

In addition to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity, this medication seems to help adolescents with obesity reduce their body mass index (BMI), according to the results of the randomized, controlled trial that took place in multiple locations around the world. Dr. Kelly served as the signatory investigator of the trial and the lead author of the paper published in “The New England Journal of Medicine.” 

A Randomized, Controlled Trial

The trial enrolled adolescents with obesity between the ages of 12 and less than 18 years old who did not respond to lifestyle therapy alone (exercise and reduced-calorie diet). The trial began with 251 participants and took place in the United States, Mexico, Belgium, Sweden and the Russian Federation, including 33 different sites. Over 82 weeks, the team recorded changes in participant weight and BMI standard deviation score (SDS), a number reflecting weight to height ratio, while factoring in age and sex.

All 251 participants received lifestyle therapy, which involved counseling in healthy nutrition and physical activity for weight management. Following the initial lifestyle therapy-only phase, half of the participants received the liraglutide medication once per day, and the other half received a placebo medication once per day. Participants in both groups continued with their lifestyle therapy throughout the 56-week treatment period and the 26-week off-treatment follow-up. 

The Results

Compared with those who received the placebo in this controlled environment, participants who received liraglutide showed significantly reduced BMI SDS and larger improvements in body weight, other BMI metrics, waist circumference and additional weight-related outcomes. 

After 82 weeks of observation, researchers found that liraglutide presented no serious health concerns. However, rates of gastrointestinal side effects were higher in participants taking liraglutide as compared to the placebo.

"The results of this clinical trial suggest that this anti-obesity medication, in addition to lifestyle therapy, improves BMI SDS and other measures of BMI and body weight for adolescents with obesity who also have had difficulties in managing their weight with lifestyle therapy alone," Dr. Kelly said.

Dr. Kelly’s study was accepted for presentation at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco, California, and was published in a supplemental issue of the "Journal of the Endocrine Society."