Epidemiology of Obesity and Pharmacologic Treatment Options

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Prevalence of obesity and its related morbidity have increased to alarming levels in adults and children in the United States and globally. Weight loss results in improvement of much of the obesity-related morbidity. Lifestyle changes such as dietary modifications, increased physical activity, and behavioral therapy form the crux of weight management. However, many individuals need additional assistance (pharmacologic or surgical) to initiate or sustain weight loss. Pharmacologic therapy consists of a number of agents that work by decreasing appetite, gastric emptying, or nutrient absorption or by increasing satiety. Five classes of drug are currently approved for adults, including sympathomimetics (with and without an antiepileptic agent topiramate), gastrointestinal lipase inhibitors, serotonin agonists, glucagon-like peptide 1 agonists, and antidepressant/opioid antagonist combination. Pharmacologic options for children with obesity are minimal (lipase inhibitor orlistat is the only approved medication for children aged >12 years); however, all adult medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children aged >16 years old. While side effect profiles of these medications are far superior to older medications, their use is limited by lack of long-term cardiovascular safety data, costs of medications and variable insurance coverages, and the need for continued usage for sustainable benefits. Weight loss medications may induce complacence, on part of both the patient and the provider, regarding lifestyle modifications, without which the drug therapy is almost certain to be of minimal benefit. Several novel drugs are in the pipeline targeting brown fat, energy expenditure, appetite suppression, and satiety.

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