The Cost-Effectiveness of Anti-Obesity Medications for Adolescent Patients

Obesity has become a prevalent issue, not only among adults but also among children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes the importance of addressing this issue and has recently released its first clinical practice guideline for the treatment of obesity in young patients. Anti-obesity medications are now recommended as an adjunct to intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment for adolescents aged 12 and older. This groundbreaking announcement comes after the publication of several clinical trials that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of anti-obesity medications such as liraglutide, phentermine/topiramate, and semaglutide for adolescent patients. With the availability of these medications and the new AAP guidelines, it is crucial to evaluate their cost-effectiveness in treating obesity in adolescents.

Cost-effectiveness analyses allow us to compare different interventions in terms of their relative costs and health outcomes. In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers evaluated the cost-effectiveness of various interventions for treating obesity in adolescents. The health outcomes were measured using quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), which take into account both the years lived and the quality of health during those years. Weight reduction was a significant factor in determining the QALYs, as improved quality of life is typically associated with weight loss.

The study found that top-dose phentermine/topiramate was the most cost-effective treatment among the interventions compared. This means that it provided the most health benefits relative to its cost within the U.S. health system. However, the intervention that resulted in the greatest weight reduction was semaglutide. Despite its significant weight reduction effects, semaglutide’s high cost prevented it from being considered a cost-effective treatment option in comparison to top-dose phentermine/topiramate. The study used an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) to determine the cost-effectiveness of one intervention compared to another. Top-dose phentermine/topiramate had an ICER of $56,876 per QALY gained, while semaglutide had an ICER of $1.1 million per QALY gained. The substantial difference in cost between the two medications, along with the modest increase in QALYs associated with semaglutide, made top-dose phentermine/topiramate the preferred choice.

Although the study provided valuable insights into the cost-effectiveness of anti-obesity medications for adolescents, there are limitations to consider. The lack of long-term data regarding the use of these medications by adolescents is a significant concern. Clinical trials only provided follow-up data for about one year, which forced the researchers to make assumptions when projecting outcomes to five years. It is unclear whether weight reduction can be maintained in the long term and the potential weight regain after discontinuation of treatment. Additionally, the study may have underestimated the cost-effectiveness of anti-obesity medications, as they may prevent the development of comorbidities in adulthood.

Future research should focus on longer-term studies to evaluate the efficacy and safety of anti-obesity medications in adolescents. These studies should also explore how early and aggressive treatment can impact future health outcomes during adulthood. By addressing these gaps in knowledge, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the potential long-term benefits of anti-obesity medications.

Although anti-obesity medications have proven to be effective in reducing weight, their high costs present a significant barrier to access for many patients. Most state Medicaid plans do not cover these medications, and private insurance often requires strict criteria for approval. The out-of-pocket costs associated with these medications may deter patients from seeking the early and aggressive treatment that the AAP now recommends. To ensure that patients have access to these medications, there needs to be a focus on affordability and ease of access. Only when these medications are readily available and affordable can we truly achieve the desired health outcomes for adolescent patients with obesity.

The cost-effectiveness of anti-obesity medications for adolescent patients is a critical consideration in the fight against childhood and adolescent obesity. While top-dose phentermine/topiramate has been identified as the most cost-effective treatment, semaglutide has shown considerable promise in terms of weight reduction. However, its high cost currently prevents it from being a cost-effective option. The findings of this study underscore the urgent need for long-term research and interventions that address the barriers to access for these medications. By doing so, we can ensure that adolescents with obesity have the opportunity to receive effective, accessible, and affordable treatments that can significantly impact their health outcomes for years to come.


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