FDA approves drug treatment for weight loss, first in years

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced the approval of the semaglutide injection for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight and at least one weight-related condition, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol, for use in addition to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity.

This under-the-skin injection is the first approved drug for chronic weight management in adults with general obesity or overweight since 2014. The drug is indicated for chronic weight management in patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 kg/m2 or greater who have at least one weight-related ailment or in patients with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater. 

The drug works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake. The medication dose must be increased gradually over 16 to 20 weeks to 2.4 milligrams once weekly to reduce gastrointestinal side effects, the FDA said.

Approximately 70 percent of American adults have obesity or overweight, the agency said. Having obesity or overweight is a serious health issue associated with some leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and is linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Losing 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight through diet and exercise has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in adult patients with obesity or overweight.

For integrative practitioners, these statistics are far from startling, and are a reality many patients face daily. Some practitioners welcome the approval, while emphasizing the inclusion of nutrition and exercise as part of a comprehensive care plan. Others say the approval is controversial and gives the illusion that lifestyle changes on their own offer no benefit for obese patients with comorbidities, which simply isn’t the case.  Regardless, practitioners should be prepared to discuss with patients should they come to you with questions.

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