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Obesity meds used by just over half of pediatric obesity programs



Only about half of pediatric obesity programs offer pharmacotherapy, according to data from a national program registry.

Empty pill bottles and pills PhotoDisk

Programs that didn’t offer pharmacotherapy for children and adolescents with obesity cited a variety of reasons in responses to a survey of 33 multicomponent pediatric weight management programs (PWMPs).

Simply not being in favor of using pharmacotherapy for obesity treatment was the most frequently cited reason, named by seven PWMPs that didn’t prescribe obesity medications.

The second most common response to the survey, cited by six programs, was a lack of knowledge about prescribing medications for obesity, and concerns about insurance coverage were noted by five programs, said Claudia Fox, MD, and her colleagues in a poster presentation at a meeting presented by the Obesity Society and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “Despite recommendations, few youth with severe obesity are treated with medications.”

Of the programs that did offer pharmacotherapy, 14 prescribed topiramate, and 13 prescribed phentermine. Metformin was used by 11 programs, and orlistat by eight. Six programs prescribed the fixed-dose combination of topiramate and phentermine.

Lorcaserin, naltrexone/bupropion, liraglutide, phendimetrazine, and naltrexone alone all were used by fewer than five programs each.

The national Pediatric Obesity Weight Evaluation Registry (POWER) “was established in 2013 to identify and promote effective intervention strategies for pediatric obesity,” wrote Dr. Fox and her colleagues

Of the 33 POWER PWMPs who were invited to participate, 30 completed a program profile survey. Of these, 16 programs (53%) offered pharmacotherapy, wrote Dr. Fox, the codirector of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine, Minneapolis, and her colleagues in the POWER work group.

In addition to not being in favor of prescribing obesity medication for pediatric patients, lack of knowledge, and insurance concerns, one program cited limited outcome studies for pediatric obesity pharmacotherapy. One other program’s response noted that patients couldn’t be seen frequently enough to assess the safety of obesity medications.

Taken together, the POWER sites had 7,880 patients. Just 5% were aged 2- 5 years, 48% were aged 6-11 years, and 47% were aged 12-18 years. Just over half (53%) were female.

At baseline, about a quarter of patients (26.4%) had class 1 obesity, defined as a body mass index of at least the 95th age- and sex-adjusted percentile. Children and adolescents with class 2 obesity (BMI of at least 1.2-1.4 times the 95th percentile) made up 35.3% of patients; 38.3% had class 3 obesity, with BMIs greater than 1.4 times the 95th percentile.

In 2017, the Endocrine Society published updated clinical practice guidelines for the assessment, treatment, and prevention of pediatric obesity (J Clin Endocrin Metab. 2017 Mar;102:3;709-57). The guidelines for pediatric obesity treatment recommend intensive lifestyle modifications including dietary, physical activity, and behavioral interventions. Pharmacotherapy is suggested “only after a formal program of intensive lifestyle modification has failed to limit weight gain or to ameliorate comorbidities.” Additionally, say the guidelines, Food and Drug Administration–approved pharmacotherapy should be used only “with a concomitant lifestyle modification program of the highest intensity available and only by clinicians who are experienced in the use of anti-obesity agents and are aware of the potential for adverse reactions.”

“Most commonly prescribed medications are not FDA approved for indication of obesity in pediatrics,” noted Dr. Fox and her coauthors. “Further research is needed to evaluate efficacy of pharmacotherapy in the pediatric population and to understand factors impacting prescribing practices.”

Dr. Fox reported no outside sources of funding and had no relevant financial disclosures.

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