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Weight Loss Medicines

The best way to reach or maintain a healthy weight is to exercise regularly and practice good eating habits. But for some kids and teens who can’t lose weight with lifestyle changes alone, doctors may recommend other treatments like weight loss medicines or surgery.

Medicines aren’t a "magic bullet" for weight loss. But when taken as directed and used along with healthy lifestyle changes, they can help some kids and teens achieve a healthier weight.

How Do Weight Loss Medicines Work?

Weight loss medicines work by helping a person feel less hungry, fuller for longer, or both. Some medicines change the way the body absorbs fat.

There are many different types of weight loss medicines. Some even help to treat medical problems like diabetes.

These medicines work best when kids and teens also follow their doctor’s or dietitian’s advice for eating well and being physically active.

Are Weight Loss Medicines Safe?

Weight loss medicines are safe when taken as directed. A common weight loss medicine — called semaglutide (brand names Wegovy and Ozempic) — is approved for kids ages 12 and older who have obesity.

These medicines aren't intended for people who just want to lose a few pounds or don’t have weight-related health conditions. They're also not safe for anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding.

Do Weight Loss Medicines Have Side Effects?

Mild side effects are common with most weight loss drugs, and usually go away over time. They can include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • belly pain
  • headache

More serious side effects are possible but less common. Kids and teens who take weight loss medicine should always let the doctor know if they have severe belly pain, mood changes, dizziness or lightheadedness, swelling, itching, or trouble breathing. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about side effects.

Are Weight Loss Medicines Right for My Child?

If you're worried about your child’s weight, talk to their doctor. They'll ask about how and what your child eats and their physical activity habits. The doctor can offer suggestions on healthy lifestyle changes your child can make, and might order blood tests to check for any health problems.

The doctor might refer your child to a dietitian or a weight management program. They can recommend safe ways for your child to lose weight and talk about which weight loss approaches are best.

What About Weight Loss Supplements?

Over-the-counter diet pills and weight loss supplements (the kinds you can buy without a prescription) aren’t recommended for kids and teens. Most of the claims they make are not proven, and many contain hidden ingredients and can cause unwanted side effects (like high blood pressure) and problems with the heart, kidneys, or liver.

What Else Should I Know?

Weight loss medicines only help people lose weight and keep it off while they’re taking them. After a person stops taking the medicine, any weight that was lost can be gained back quickly.

The effects of long-term use of these medicines in kids and teens has yet to be studied, as many were only recently approved for these age groups. Talk to your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of using these medicines to aid your child’s weight loss journey.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 29, 2024

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