June 19, 2024

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Weight Loss Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Could Pose Risks to Children

Scientists Warn: Popular Weight Loss Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Could Pose Risks to Children

Scientists Warn: Popular Weight Loss Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Could Pose Risks to Children

Experts at the University of California, Irvine, have expressed concerns about the misuse of GLP-1RA medications in children and adolescents for treating obesity and diabetes.

These medications have seen success in adults, raising worries that influenced by unrealistic body standards on social media, teenagers might inappropriately reduce their calorie intake and potentially abuse these drugs.

Counterfeit medications and internet access further threaten pediatric health. The initiative outlines steps to address these issues and safeguard the health of children.

Ozempic, Wegovy, and other widely used weight loss drugs contain glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs), which may pose potential health risks to children.

A team of experts from the University of California, Irvine, comprising clinical doctors, exercise scientists, pharmacologists, ethicists, and behavioral specialists, has expressed concerns about the use of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs) in treating childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Led by Dr. Dan M. Cooper, a distinguished professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, the research team published an opinion article in the Clinical and Translational Science Journal, emphasizing the worrisome potential for misuse in children and adolescents, despite the promising outlook of GLP-1RAs in adults.

Potential Unintended Effects on Children

The research team pointed out that GLP-1RA medications are revolutionizing the treatment of adult obesity and type 2 diabetes and recent studies suggest they have a similar significant impact in children and adolescents.

With the rise of childhood obesity and related adolescent type 2 diabetes becoming more severe due to interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of opportunities for physical activity and play, these new drugs are expected to benefit children suffering from severe obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Scientists Warn: Popular Weight Loss Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Could Pose Risks to Children

Research on the use of GLP-1RAs in children and adolescents is scarce. The use of these drugs in children may be long-term, and little is known about their long-term effects on growth and overall health. Source: Dr. Dan Cooper, University of California, Los Angeles

Ironically, it is the unprecedented success of these drugs that has the research team concerned. They believe that excessive use and abuse of these drugs by teenagers are inevitable.

Dr. Cooper, the Vice Chair of Clinical and Translational Science Research at the University of California, Irvine, and Acting Director of the Institute for Precision Health at the University of California, said, “Our main concern is the potential for a calorie or energy intake imbalance and inappropriate reduction associated with these weight loss medications. Unlike adults, children and teenagers not only need energy and sufficient calories for physical exercise but also for growth and development.”

Balancing Diet and Exercise for Lifelong Health

The balance between energy intake (diet) and energy expenditure (through physical games and exercise) affects a child’s growth and health throughout their life, and any alteration in the balance of these two factors can have adverse effects on their future health. For instance, during critical growth periods in childhood, the optimal diet and exercise levels increase bone mineralization, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in their later years.

The research team also pointed out that patients diagnosed with eating disorders and children and adolescents engaged in competitive sports such as wrestling, martial arts, gymnastics, and ballet are at risk of abuse.

The Influence of Social Media and Body Image

Jan D. Hirsch, Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of the co-authors, said, “There is a need to carefully study the trade-off between the long-term benefits and costs (economic and quality of life) of extended adolescent use. With the increasing prevalence of social media, young people are exposed to a culture of diet and body image that may be unattainable and ultimately unhealthy. Using these drugs without proper supervision may sow the seeds of health and emotional issues in children as they age.”

Cooper also pointed out that the prevalence of childhood obesity and related conditions is largely due to a lack of safe places for children and adolescents to play and exercise, coupled with the availability of popular, affordable, high-calorie fast food. Not surprisingly, the epidemic of poor physical fitness and obesity has a significant impact on underrepresented minority populations.

As the effectiveness and popularity of these drugs continue to rise, drug manufacturers are rapidly developing oral forms of the medication, which researchers believe could limit oversight and lead to drug abuse. Clinical experience shows that GLP-1RAs, as appetite-suppressing medications to aid in weight loss, have already gained widespread use among pediatric populations, and the prominent coverage in the media further exacerbates the situation.

Dr. Emma Cooper, a resident physician in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical School, said, “News about GLP-1RA agonists has permeated social media, with celebrities, fashion models, and influencers discussing it. We have reason to believe that as access to GLP-1RA agonists becomes easier, more and more children will use them unsupervised to meet society’s aesthetic standards.” Dr. Emma Cooper added, “As the incidence of mental illnesses such as eating disorders continues to rise, healthcare providers should screen and intervene against the inappropriate use of these drugs.”

Researchers believe that proper pediatric health may also be at risk, not only because there is ample evidence of counterfeit drugs rising but also because counterfeit drugs can be easily obtained through the internet.

Based on their research in exercise, diet, and obesity prevention, and their clinical experience, the UCI team has launched a call to action. The target audience for this call to action is the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) academic hubs, such as the University of California, Los Angeles, who are recipients of the national CTSA.

The action call proposes the following:

Establish and support interdisciplinary teams consisting of frontline clinical doctors, community partners, physiologists, and experts in behavioral and pharmaceutical sciences to fill the knowledge gap regarding the impact of GLP-1RAs on children and adolescents.

Address the translational bioethical research questions that arise from the approval of pediatric formulations of GLP-1RA medications, particularly as health conditions like pediatric obesity become medicalized.

Participate in and enhance the quality and accessibility of relevant real-world data, such as school-based physical fitness testing (SB-PFT), which is mandatory in 16 states and covers approximately 60% of American school-age children.

Collaborate with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies to update lifestyle intervention guidelines for pediatric clinical trials, incorporating the latest methods for quantifying, monitoring, and evaluating physical activity, dietary adherence, and precise measurements of body composition, rather than relying on body mass index (BMI), which is a suboptimal measure for assessing adolescent overweight and obesity.

Increase and improve training for clinical trial personnel to keep them informed about the latest advancements in effective lifestyle interventions. Such training should be geared towards primary care pediatricians, as they currently have very limited exposure to exercise and nutritional science.

Develop, demonstrate, and disseminate learning modules about GL1-RA medications, their appropriate use, and potential abuse for school staff (teachers, coaches), parents, school-aged children, primary care pediatricians, and child mental health professionals.

Scientists Warn: Popular Weight Loss Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Could Pose Risks to Children

(source:internet, reference only)

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