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After several ineffective attempts to help her teenage daughter reach a healthy weight through diet and exercise alone, this mother encouraged her child to try Wegovy. Carol Yepes/Getty Images
  • Nearly 14.7 million American children live with obesity, leaving parents unsure of how to help them.
  • One mom shares her child’s lifelong journey with obesity and how she turned to anti-obesity medication for help.
  • In January 2023, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended anti-obesity drugs like Wegovy for adolescents with obesity.

[Both names were changed in this story to protect their privacy]

Jillian’s oldest child, Lucy, had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight her entire life.

“My husband and I exercise regularly; we’re very athletic, and we understand how diet and exercise can make your life better. We felt we were good examples in life for that, so it was very difficult to watch this happen for years without being able to stop it,” Jillian told Healthline.

They witnessed their daughter experience fat shaming from friends, coaches, and other adults.

“You can see for a teenager who is very overweight, what that does to them socially and emotionally and everything. You get to a point where you are like, what can help this person realize there is another life out there?” said Jillian.

Over the years, they stressed how eating nutritious foods and exercising could help Lucy become healthier. During the pandemic, their concerns about her living with obesity heightened due to the fact that obesity was a risk factor for severe illness from COVID-19.

“She was 16 at the time. We felt most likely you are ok now, but if you continue down this path and get sick in your 40s, 50s, 60s, and you’re heavy, you’re in trouble. We always tried to approach it from a health perspective first,” said Jillian.

Throughout Lucy’s adolescent and teen years, Jillian and her husband connected her with a nutritionist and offered to pay for a meal plan, personal trainer, and gym membership.

“We said that for years, and it was always met with a lot of resistance,” said Jillian. “I think the amount of weight she needed to lose was so overwhelming to her that she didn’t try anything.”

In 2022, while on a walk with her friend, Dr. Angela Fitch, an obesity specialist, Jillian shared how she was at a loss for helping Lucy lose weight. Fitch informed her that the anti-obesity GLP-1 medication Wegovy was approved to treat overweight and obesity for people over 12 years old.

“I was 100% not looking for a medication to change her life. I was hoping it would happen naturally, either through exercise or changing her diet or both,” said Jillian.

When she told Lucy about the medication, Jillian expected her to resist as she did with lifestyle options, but to her surprise, Lucy showed interest.

In November of 2022, then 18-year-old Lucy started taking Wegovy prescribed through knownwell, where Fitch is the chief medical officer. The medication is covered under Lucy’s parents’ insurance.

“The data shows that people are able to do better with medication than they are without medication. That’s true of a lot of diseases — asthma, depression,” Fitch told Healthline. “It’s just for centuries, we blamed people for not being able to control their disease state [of obesity] with only their willpower. What we determined is you can’t control biology with willpower always. It’s challenging to alter biology.”

In fact, of the 22% of people 12 to 19 years old with obesity, research shows that most won’t be able to manage the condition.

Due to this, in January 2023, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended anti-obesity drugs like Wegovy for adolescents in its Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Obesity.

Fitch says the question shouldn’t be why are doctors putting kids on anti-obesity medication, but rather why aren’t they?

“If we don’t put them on medicine, they’re going to die potentially eight years earlier than they should. They’re going to have diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure earlier, and why would we not want to help them not do that?” she said.

After taking Wegovy for 14 months, Lucy has lost nearly 70 pounds. Jillian said the weight loss has been “life changing” for her daughter.

“She graduated from high school last year and is in college now, having the best time,” said Jillian. “Before she was so closed off. It was not an option to try out for things or talk to people and she tries everything and does everything. She’s happier, she’s lighter, she’s a very different person.”

While research shows GLP-1 medication is safe for children above the age of 12 and that the benefits outweigh the risk for children with obesity, Dina Peralta-Reich, MD, fellow of the AAP and of the Obesity Medicine Association, said these medications should be used under appropriate supervision.

“The supervision should be provided by someone with experience who understands the physiology of children, as they are very distinct from adults,” she told Healthline.

Before taking the medication, children and teens should see their pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist, who can assess whether a GLP-1 is appropriate for them.

Peralta-Reich stressed that the medication should not be prescribed before trying to integrate healthier eating and lifestyle habits, discussing triggers, and incorporating exercise.

Fitch agreed and said there is a misconception that people just go on anti-obesity medications as an easy way out.

“We make decisions as parents, but we don’t make them lightly. Parents come in with their children after having tried a bunch of stuff to manage their life without medication,” Fitch said.

She encourages patients to focus on lifestyle interventions. However, when that doesn’t work, medication can be considered.

“Sometimes whatever is going on between environment and the human body with genetics just can’t be fixed with lifestyle alone,” said Fitch.

Advocating to get help from physicians who understand obesity is a disease state is critical, said added.

“A lot of kids don’t get access to [obesity] care and keep getting told to eat five fruits and vegetables per day, limit screen time to two hours, and exercise for one hour, but we have to try to function in our environment in the most helpful way we can,” Fitch said.

Because Wegovy and other anti-obesity medications are injected, Peralta-Reich said parents should educate kids on use.

For older adolescents who are capable of self-administration, she said to ensure they understand the proper dosage and frequency of medication intake. Parents of younger children should administer the medication.

“[It’s] crucial for patients to follow up regularly with their physician. This isn’t like seeing a doctor once every two months; patients should see their physician at least once a month, or even more frequently,” she said.

Parents should inquire about the possible side effects of GLP-1s and how to prevent them based on their child’s lifestyle and eating habits, said Peralta-Reich.

For Lucy, the negative effects of drinking alcohol at college parties are a harsh reality. If she drinks more than one drink, she gets sick, which upsets her.

“She wants to be a typical college student, to the point where she thought about stopping the medication because of drinking, but she hasn’t changed her eating habits or isn’t exercising on the regular, so she’d go right back to where she was,” said Jillian.

The potential long-term complications of taking the medication are also something to consider, said Peralta-Reich.

“For example, if the child has not reached puberty yet, parents should discuss how the medication can affect their growth,” she said.

While Lucy is past this stage of development and into early adulthood, Jillian said she doesn’t want her on the medication forever.

“Even though my daughter’s life has changed…I know that this is a lifetime problem, and this could be a lifetime prescription. I don’t want that for her,” said Jillian.

She is still hopeful that the weight loss Lucy has experienced on Wegovy will kickstart her on a path to healthier lifestyle choices so that she eventually doesn’t need to take the medication.

“It has to be from her. It can’t be from me,” said Jillian. “I don’t love that she is dependent on a drug to be this way, but it’s so worth it. She’s so happy.”