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November 17, 2022

New Options for Treating Adolescent Obesity

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Adolescence is one of the most rapid phases of human development. As children transition to early adulthood, body shape, size, and composition change significantly.1

This can also be a critical period for the development of obesity. Childhood and adolescent obesity rates have emerged as a critical public health challenge in the United States.1,2

  • In the past 3 decades, the percentage of adolescents (ages 12-19 years) with obesity has tripled in the US — and continues to rise rapidly.2
  • It is estimated that 20% of US adolescents suffer from obesity, and 9.5% of US adolescents have severe obesity.2

The Challenges of Adolescent Obesity

The health impacts of adolescent obesity can be severe. Left untreated, it can contribute to future health challenges — including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea — conditions that used to be considered “adult” diseases.3

Weight management treatment approach should focus on the unique challenges adolescents face: physical, emotional, psychological and medical to adapt to their lifestyle.

Dina Peralta-Reich, M.D. Director,

New York Weight Wellness Medicine*

Adolescent obesity can involve various factors:

  • It’s closely associated with decreased physical activity and its rates can vary by ethnic group, age, education levels, and household income.1,2,3
  • Family, community, and school environments can shape behaviors that contribute to adolescent obesity — e.g. making healthy food choices.2,3
  • Genetics can also play a significant role. If one or both parents have obesity, this can significantly increase the risk of obesity in their children.2,3

Additionally, adolescents struggling with weight management often have to deal with stigmatization. This is often expressed as teasing and bullying. Unfortunately, this can contribute to behaviors that increase weight gain over time — binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of healthcare services and increased inactivity.4

New Treatments Offer Hope

Treating adolescents with obesity has traditionally focused on lifestyle modification.5,6 However, on its own, this often fails. For example, only 2–15% of adolescents with severe obesity respond to intensive behavioral changes. 5,6

It’s important to offer a range of evidence-based treatment options that includes alternatives for adolescents to achieve a healthier lifestyle at a younger age preventing comorbidities.

Dina Peralta-Reich, M.D. Director,

New York Weight Wellness Medicine*

The combination of prescription medications and lifestyle modification can be an appropriate option in cases where behavioral modification alone has not worked.


  • Until recently, there were only two prescription medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in adolescents for weight management.2,5,6
  • The use of prescription medications for weight management remains low.2,5,6
  • Inequity in the use of these medications exist — and can vary by race and ethnicity.7

In an important July 2022 announcement, the FDA approved a prescription medication option from VIVUS for treating adolescents with obesity. VIVUS has a proven history of developing treatments to help address the obesity epidemic. This medication has been approved for weight management in adolescents age 12-17 years old with an initial body-mass index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or greater standardized for age and sex.

Learn more about the FDA’s approval and announcement here.

Treating adolescent obesity should be an important public health priority. In addition to ongoing research into treatment approaches, increased use of guideline-based options — including prescription medications — can offer much-needed hope to families.

VIVUS is a biopharmaceutical company committed to advancing innovative clinical therapies. With demonstrated clinical development and commercialization expertise, VIVUS is dedicated to addressing the therapeutic needs of patients with serious medical conditions and life-limiting diseases. We are a focused organization with the expertise and insights to advance innovative new therapies.

  1. Steinbeck KS, Lister NB, Gow ML, Baur LA. Treatment of adolescent obesity. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2018 Jun;14(6):331-344.
  2. Johnson VR, Cao M, Czepiel KS, Mushannen T, Nolen L, Stanford FC. Strategies in the Management of Adolescent Obesity. Curr Pediatr Rep. 2020 Jun;8(2):56-65
  3. Kumar S, Kelly AS. Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017 Feb;92(2):251-265.
  4. Pont SJ, Puhl R, Cook SR, Slusser W; SECTION ON OBESITY; OBESITY SOCIETY. Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents With Obesity. Pediatrics. 2017 Dec;140(6):e20173034.
  5. Srivastava G, Fox CK, Kelly AS, Jastreboff AM, Browne AF, Browne NT, Pratt JSA, Bolling C, Michalsky MP, Cook S, Lenders CM, Apovian CM. Clinical Considerations Regarding the Use of Obesity Pharmacotherapy in Adolescents with Obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019 Feb;27(2):190-204.
  6. Smith JD, Fu E, Kobayashi MA. Prevention and Management of Childhood Obesity and Its Psychological and Health Comorbidities. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2020 May 7;16:351-378.
  7. Bomberg EM, Palzer EF, Rudser KD, Kelly AS, Bramante CT, Seligman HK, Noni F, Fox CK. Anti-obesity medication prescriptions by race/ethnicity and use of an interpreter in a pediatric weight management clinic. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2022 Apr 11;13:20420188221090009.

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