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Could a diabetes drug treat teen obesity?

Will medication help overweight teens control their weight? That's the question posed by a new study published today in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The research team, led by Stanford scientist Darrell Wilson, MD, tested whether one year of metformin, a drug developed for diabetes, helped 13- to 18-year-olds slim down. After a year, the treatment was discontinued and the researchers watched for another year to see if metformin left lasting improvements in weight.

Helping teens get a handle on their weight is a big concern for physicians, said Wilson, who is also the chief of pediatric endocrinology at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Prior research has shown that overweight adolescents tend to carry their extra weight into adulthood, upping their risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Though this trial of metformin for adolescent obesity was the longest and largest to date, with 77 subjects taking metformin or a placebo, the results showed only small differences between the two groups. After a year, teens taking metformin experienced a small but statistically significant decline in body mass index (a weight-to-height ratio used to assess obesity), while the control group had had a slight increase in BMI. When the treatments were discontinued, the difference between the two groups disappeared after a few months.

"We saw mostly mild weight loss," Wilson said. Although metformin is hardly a perfect solution to the problem of adolescent obesity, he said, "We can conclude that this is a reasonable, safe therapy that for some people may be helpful."

Read more coverage of this research at MedPage Today.

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