The weight-loss drug Meridia (search) safely helps teens overcome obesity (search) and may reduce their risks of developing obesity-related diseases, according to a study funded by the drug’s maker, Abbott Laboratories.

WebMD first reported on the study when it was presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting last June. Now, the final numbers are in, showing that teens who took Meridia lost significantly more weight safely. The study also shows that the obese teens who took the weight-loss drug in combination with a low-calorie diet lowered blood triglyceride and LDL levels — markers of prediabetes.

Seeking an Edge Against Obesity

Meridia — now only prescribed for adults — works by making people feel fuller sooner. But obesity is rippling through all generations, and overweight and obese youth grow up at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental problems such as low self-esteem, and other medical conditions.

Just about everyone agrees that should change. Weight-loss basics are simple: Burn more calories than you consume. Move more, eat less, and devote your pared-down calories to nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and reduced-fat dairy products.

But for many people, that’s easier said than done. It’s nothing short of a revolution to radically change how you eat and your activity level. Heading to the gym instead of the couch or cutting back on dessert doesn’t always come easily at first.

That’s why antiobesity drugs spark so much attention. They might not be a long-term solution, since obesity can be a chronic condition. Discontinuation of the medication can lead to the extra pounds creeping back if your food and fitness habits didn’t change. But if the drugs can jump-start weight loss in adults, are they also appropriate for teens?

Weight-Loss Results With Meridia

The Brazilian study addressed that question, along with concerns about Meridia’s possible side effects.

The 60 teens who enrolled didn’t just pop pills. They were also told to get at least half an hour of daily exercise and to trim 500 calories from their diets per day, getting 30 percent of their calories from fat, 20 percent from protein, and 50 percent from carbohydrates.

After a month, half of the teens were given Meridia; the other half got a placebo pill. No one knew which pill they had.

At six months the final weigh-in showed that participants taking Meridia lost an average of 23 pounds, compared with 5 pounds among those given a placebo.

The researchers also took note of the teens’ waist and hip measurements. They found that teens taking Meridia had significantly lowered their measurements more than those taking a placebo. Fat distributed around the waist is considered a marker for heart disease and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that places a person at a higher risk for heart disease.

No differences in blood pressure or heart rate were seen between the two groups and Meridia didn’t affect the patients’ heart valves, write the researchers. No serious side effects were seen, but constipation was significantly more common in the Meridia group.

The study’s researchers included Amélio Godoy-Matos, MD, of Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Their report appears in the March edition of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Is Meridia Safe?

Among adults, Meridia has been found to increase blood pressure or heart rate in some patients.

That’s one reason why the consumer group Public Citizen has named Meridia to its “worst drugs” list. Public Citizen has twice petitioned the FDA to remove the drug from the market, citing 49 heart disease deaths in people taking Meridia and suggesting that the drug might be linked to fetal defects in four babies born to women taking Meridia.

Not everyone agrees with that.

The American Obesity Association (search) has said that death rates seen with Meridia are lower than the overall death rate for obese people. Meridia’s maker has noted that heart disease deaths aren’t uncommon with obesity. Clinical trials of more than 12,000 people showed no sign that Meridia increased the risk of heart problems. The drug’s maker says Meridia’s benefits far outweigh any risk, based on clinical trials and postmarketing data.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Godoy-Matos, A. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, March 2005; vol 90: pp 1460-1465. WebMD Medical News: “Study: Meridia May Help Obese Teens.” WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Sibutramine For Obesity.” Public Citizen, “Worst Pills.” News release, The Endocrine Society.