Teenage Waistband: Diabetes Rx May Fight Fat

Diabetes drug for adults shows promise in helping obese teens shed pounds

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Teen obesity is a growing health problem. The percentage of US adolescents who are overweight has more than tripled over the last 20 years. One diabetes Rx may help teens lose weight.

Teens with severe obesity face a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The diabetes Rx exenatide (Byetta) may help these very obese teens with modest weight reduction.

"Losing weight can help teens live healthier lives."

Aaron Kelly, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Amplatz Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, led this small study looking at the effects of the diabetes drug exenatide on obese teens.

In their report, Dr. Kelly and his team wrote that few medical treatment options are available for childhood obesity. While exercise and healthy eating can help reduce weight, these approaches do not always work for severely obese children. 

Exenatide is an FDA-approved drug for patients with type 2 diabetes. It suppresses the appetite and slows digestion—even in people without diabetes.

Investigators tested the drug with a group of 22 teens, ages 12 to 19, who were considered severely obese. Subjects all had a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more. 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality says that an example of an obese man would be someone who is 5’11” and weighs 215 pounds. An obese woman might be 5’5” and weigh 180 pounds or more.

Researchers gave the drug to 12 patients and a placebo (fake drug) to 10. At the end of six months, those taking exenatide had an average BMI reduction of 4 percent or more compared to the others.

Authors also observed a drop in blood pressure among those taking the medication.

Dr. Kelly told dailyRx News, “This was encouraging because obesity is often associated with hypertension.”

He also noted that exanatide, which is in a drug class of GLP-1 receptor agonists, may have the potential to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in teens. “Results of our initial pilot study demonstrated that exenatide reduced post-meal glucose and insulin levels, which may help prevent diabetes,” said Dr. Kelly in an interview with dailyRx News.

He added that his research team is currently following the development of another similar diabetes medication called liraglutide (Victoza), which is in clinical trials as an obesity medication.

“If this medication is ultimately approved by the FDA for the treatment of obesity in adults, we would like to see studies conducted in adolescents to assess its safety and effectiveness,” said Kelly.

The study was published February 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. Funding was provided by awards from the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Kelly has received research funding from Amylin and Eli Lilly and served on a pediatric obesity advisory board for Novo Nordisk.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 6, 2013
Last Updated:
February 8, 2013