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Diabetes Drug Tied to Weight Loss in Obese Kids

But, experts say drug isn't meant for that use, while diet and exercise have proven effective

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Obese children who don't have type 2 diabetes but take the diabetes drug metformin while improving their diet and exercise habits seem to lose a bit of weight. But it isn't much more weight than kids who only make the lifestyle changes, according to a new review of studies.

Some evidence suggests that metformin, in combination with lifestyle changes, affects weight loss in obese children. But the drug isn't likely to result in important reductions in weight, said lead researcher Marian McDonagh.

Childhood obesity is a significant health problem in the United States, with nearly 18 percent of kids between 6 and 19 years old classified as obese. Metformin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat type 2 diabetes in adults and children over 10 years old, but doctors have used it "off-label" to treat obese kids who don't have diabetes, according to background information included in the study.

McDonagh's team analyzed 14 clinical trials that included nearly 1,000 children between 10 and 16 years old. All were overweight or obese.

Based on data in adults, weight reductions of 5 percent to 10 percent are needed to decrease the risk of serious health problems tied to obesity, the researchers said. The additional amount of weight loss among children taking metformin in the review, however, was less than 5 percent on average.

"With childhood obesity on the rise -- and [its] serious long-term implications for the child's health as an adult -- clinicians and parents are searching for interventions that will provide meaningful weight reduction," said McDonagh, an associate professor in the department of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at the Oregon Health & Science University.

"Since metformin has been used to treat type 2 diabetes for many years -- including in older children -- and often results in weight loss, it has been used off-label to treat obesity in children," McDonagh said.

The report was published online Dec. 16 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said metformin is effective at both treating and preventing diabetes.

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