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A blockbuster weight-loss medicine led to dramatic effects for adolescents diagnosed with obesity, a result that will likely widen the use of an in-demand drug — and fan a debate over whether someone’s body weight should be treated as a disease.

The drug, a weekly injection called semaglutide, led to a 17% reduction in body mass index compared to placebo in a study of about 200 people between the ages of 12 and 18. On average, adolescents treated with semaglutide lost 34 pounds, or 15% of their body weight, over the course of the 68-week study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. Those on placebo gained an average of five pounds, or 3% of their baseline weight.


The trial’s relatively small size and short duration leave outstanding questions about whether semaglutide’s side effects, which include nausea and rare cases of gallstones, will lead to long-term problems, said Julie Ingelfinger, a pediatric nephrologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the study. But the results suggest semaglutide, sold by the Danish drug company Novo Nordisk, could be a powerful tool for adolescents unable to lose weight through diet and exercise.

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