Appetite suppressing drug could be game-changer in obesity fight

Appetite suppressing drug could be game-changer in obesity fight

Some 60% of Irish people are obese or overweight. Carrying extra weight increases the risk of many other illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular problems.

A new appetite suppressant drug, described as “a great breakthrough” for weight loss, resulted in some people losing more than one-fifth of their body weight in an international trial.

The drug – semaglutide – has been hailed as a potential new weapon in the fight against obesity by a Cork-based expert in nutrition. 

A 15-month trial of almost 2,000 people showed stark findings. Participants given the drug lost 15kg on average, compared to just 2.6kg for those given a placebo.

And some 32% of people taking the drug lost one-fifth of their body weight, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found.

Dr Majella O’Keeffe is a senior lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork. While not involved in the study, or the development of semaglutide, she said the findings suggest the drug could revolutionise weight-loss treatment.

"This, I think, is a great breakthrough and we’re very happy to see the results," Dr O'Keeffe said.

"Semaglutide induces significant and clinically meaningful weight loss.

"And the fact that it’s a once-a-week injection may improve adherence.

"It represents another weapon in our arsenal in the fight against obesity, it is a huge addition.

"It will revolutionise things ... it won’t be suitable for everybody but it does give us another option.

"It also offers hope to patients that may have experienced difficulty with other methods of weight loss."

Semaglutide is already used in lower doses to treat type 2 diabetes.

It essentially tricks the body into thinking it's full by mimicking a hormone called GLP1 that the body releases after a filling meal.

Some 60% of Irish people are obese or overweight. Carrying extra weight increases the risk of many other illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular problems.

Overweight patients with Covid-19 have also been found to require more interventions if they are hospitalised with the virus, while overweight children are at increased risk of bullying and mental health difficulties, Dr O’Keefe said.

“Obesity is a huge problem. 

"If you look back at statistics from the early 90s, the range for obesity was between 8% in men and I think 13% in women. Whereas nowadays, we know that 37% of the population are overweight and 23% are obese."

Bariatric surgery and very low-calorie diets result in similar weight-loss levels of 15%. But while Dr O'Keeffe does not see Semaglutide completely replacing bariatric surgery or very low-calorie diets, it shows patients they have options, she said. 

Dr O'Keeffe said while there was the potential to abuse the drug, as there was for all drugs, the fact that it is a prescribed drug by GPs or consultants who then monitor its use carefully should protect patients from using it dangerously. 

Side effects, including nausea, vomiting and constipation were reported from the trial. 

While the scale of the obesity problem "warrants swift intervention", there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and drugs ultimately play only one small part in getting our national weight problem under control, she said.

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