SWITZERLAND — The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that new weight loss drugs should not be seen as a “silver bullet” for tackling obesity.

Francesco Branca, the WHO director of food and nutrition safety, emphasized that weight loss medications should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

These remarks from Ms. Branca come as the WHO conducts its first review of obesity management guidelines in two decades.

One such weight loss drug gaining attention is semaglutide, marketed as Wegovy by Novo Nordisk.

This appetite suppressant drug has received approval from the UK medicines regulator and has been hailed by some as a “game changer” in helping individuals shed weight.

Wegovy is administered through weekly injections or pens, similar to those used by diabetics. A study revealed that individuals who took the drug experienced an average weight reduction of 12% after 68 weeks.

However, Ms. Branca emphasized that while weight loss drugs can play a significant role in addressing obesity, they must be part of a comprehensive approach.

She criticized the perception created by the messaging around these drugs, stating, “The kind of communication that has been done around these drugs – ‘we’ve found a solution’ – that’s wrong.”

She further emphasized, “Drugs for obesity are important but must be part of a comprehensive approach. This is not a silver bullet.”

When contacted for comments, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of a similar weight loss product called Mounjaro, did not immediately respond.

The National Health Service (NHS) in England is preparing to offer access to Wegovy, a weight-loss drug, for specific individuals grappling with obesity.

This decision follows the approval of Wegovy for NHS use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

To ensure safe and effective utilization, the drug will be prescribed as part of a specialized weight management service that involves a collaborative effort from diverse healthcare professionals.

Treatment with Wegovy will have a maximum duration of two years, allowing for a comprehensive approach to addressing obesity.

Wegovy has already obtained approval for weight-loss purposes in both the United States and Europe.

Additionally, Mounjaro, a similar drug, is anticipated to receive approval in the United States later this year.

The demand for these drugs is projected to reach staggering heights, with estimated annual sales of US$100 billion within the next decade.

In fact, the market may see the introduction of up to 10 different drugs catering to weight-loss needs.

As the availability of these drugs expands, medical groups in the United States are reevaluating their obesity treatment guidelines to determine the most effective and appropriate use of drugs like Wegovy.

While some specialists advocate for a broad utilization of these medications, others suggest prioritizing high-risk patients who have underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease that are exacerbated by excess weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has even recommended the use of weight-loss medicines in children aged 12 or older who are affected by obesity, despite the need for further long-term studies to assess the potential impacts.

Individuals with a BMI of 30 and above may be eligible to access the drug, which is administered using a pen injector.

While some experts view this decision as a “pivotal moment” in obesity treatment, others caution that the drug is not a “quick fix.”

Concerns about supply and demand have resulted in the delayed rollout of the drug in England.

WHO to revise guidelines for obesity treatment

Ms. Branca stated that the WHO is currently revising guidelines for treating obesity in children and adolescents and will subsequently update recommendations for adults.

The last global guidelines on this topic were issued by the WHO in 2000 and are used as a blueprint by countries lacking the resources to develop their own plans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is undertaking a comprehensive review of the evidence surrounding the use of weight loss drugs for children and adolescents.

To carry out this critical assessment, the WHO has enlisted the expertise of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy.

The institute will evaluate the effectiveness and safety of various drugs, ranging from older options like GSK’s Xenical to newer and more potent treatments such as Wegovy and Mounjaro.

The latest data from the WHO highlights a concerning trend in the prevalence of obesity and overweight among children and adolescents.

In 2016, over 18% of individuals aged five to 19 were classified as obese or overweight, representing a significant increase from just four percent in 1975. This staggering rise amounts to more than 340 million young people affected worldwide.

These findings underscore the urgent need to address the growing obesity epidemic, particularly among younger populations.

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