- Ozempic, Wegovy, and other GLP-1 agonist medications might affect different age groups differently.
- Common side effects of GLP-1 receptor agonists are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and decreased appetite.
- More severe side effects are also possible, depending on several factors including age and preexisting conditions.
- No matter the age of a person taking Ozempic, healthy lifestyle habits should be practiced.
As GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic and Wegovy become more and more popular to aid with weight loss, people are wondering if the medication is safe for all age groups.
“It’s important to remember that the effects of any medication can vary widely among individuals, regardless of age,” Dr. Steven Batash, gastroenterologist and leading physician at the Batash Endoscopic Weight Loss Center, told Healthline.
Factors such as overall health, other medical conditions, allergies, lifestyle factors, medications, and individual responses can influence how drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy affect different age demographics.
“[Each] and every patient has to be evaluated individually. These are prescription medications that should be taken under the supervision of a qualified physician,” said Batash.
Here’s what we currently know about the benefits and risks of GLP-1 drugs for teens, adults, and seniors.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Wegovy (semaglutide) injection to help adults and children aged 12 years and older with obesity, which is measured as an initial BMI at or above the 95th percentile for age and sex, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts.
In a clinical trial, teens treated with 2.4 mg of Wegovy for 68 weeks were significantly more likely to fall below the obesity threshold and return to a healthy weight than those in the placebo group. Teens who participated experienced 16% total body weight loss at 68 weeks while taking semaglutide.
“It might seem like a crazy idea to prescribe an anti-obesity medication to a teenager with obesity, but it’s all about the risk-benefit analysis,” Dr. Katherine H. Saunders, member of Obesity Action Coalition and clinical assistant professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Healthline.
For example, for a teenager who has tried and been unsuccessful with many dietary treatments for obesity and has type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and fatty liver, she said a GLP-1 drug like Wegovy is a viable option.
“Anti-obesity medications are an important part of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ latest guidelines,” Saunders said. “Semaglutide is the first of several highly effective and safe anti-obesity medications in the pipeline, and more research will include teenagers.”
While the medication may be the best option for some teenagers, Batash said providers should take extra care to evaluate young patients.
“We also have to remember, especially for the younger group of patients (21 and under), that these medications most likely need to be taken forever in order to maintain weight loss results,” he said.
For instance, the FDA approval stated that those 12 and older taking Wegovy should also get guidance on dietary and physical activity.
Before teenagers take GLP-1s, Batash said it’s important to consider the following questions.
- Is it the best solution for someone so young?
- Is there a better way of achieving long-term weight loss for this age group?
- Should non-invasive weight loss procedures be considered before putting teenagers and young adults on GLP-1 agonists?
Because every medication has side effects, Batash said it’s important to determine for each patient if the benefits of taking GLP-1s outweigh the risks.
“There is a small risk of pancreatitis associated with Wegovy, so teenagers should be counseled to avoid excessive alcohol intake, which can also lead to pancreatitis,” she said.
Because most studies on GLP-1s are limited to people in their 40s and 50s, Batash said many young adults and teenagers take the medication off-label, meaning their BMI is under 30.
“Yes, it can be viable but not necessarily the best. Most people can lose weight, but in this age group specifically, we are more concerned with long-term outcomes and I am not sure that putting these people on these meds forever is the way to achieve long-term weight loss,” he said.
He is also concerned about the mental health of young people taking GLP-1s.
“Can these medications contribute to the development of eating disorders and disorderly eating?” said Batash. “Instead of developing healthy habits and lifestyles, this particular group might abuse GLP-1s.”
Most studies on GLP-1s have been conducted on adult participants, so the information available regarding benefits, such as blood sugar control and weight loss, and the cons, such as weight gain with discontinuation, also apply to those in this age group.
Potential side effects for this group include those that would also affect teenagers, such as nausea, vomiting, and pancreatitis.
One other concern for this age group refers to those looking to become pregnant.
There is not a lot of research on the effects of GLP-1s on fertility. Because of this, healthcare professionals recommend that people trying to conceive should stop taking these medications a few months before trying to become pregnant.
Talk with the doctor who prescribed you the GLP-1 to discuss your options before trying to conceive.
Older patients, 60 and over, should know that most studies on GLP-1s were conducted on people under 60.
“[So] we don’t know long-term side effects for this age group,” said Batash. “With the over 60 group, we have to be even more attentive to medical history not to miss something else.”
For instance, older adults are often taking different medications for different conditions, which can increase their chances of side effects and medication interactions, according to the
However, GLP-1 medications might be specifically appropriate for patients with obesity and are frail with multiple comorbidities, “so anesthesia risks associated with anti-obesity procedures are avoided,” Batash added.
Saunders has prescribed Wegovy to many people over the age of 60, who take several other medications for weight-related health complications.
“The hope is that a GLP-1 receptor agonist (or any other anti-obesity medication) could replace medications for a variety of weight-related comorbidities,” she said.
For example, if a patient is taking three medications for high blood pressure and successfully loses weight on Wegovy, she said there is a good chance that one, two, or even all three of the patient’s antihypertensives could be discontinued.
“It’s so exciting when weight loss enables us to stop or reduce doses of other medications for weight-related health complications,” Saunders said.
On the other hand, some concerns to think about for older adults taking GLP-1s include:
- Dehydration. Not drinking enough water while taking medication can lead to dehydration, which can cause dizziness, fainting, and falls. Dehydration can also be caused by nausea and vomiting that are side effects of GLP-1s.
- Muscle loss. A clinical trial of semaglutide found that after 68 weeks on the medication, 86.4% of participants lost 5% or more of their body weight, and 69.1% lost 10% or more of their body weight. Rapid weight loss leads to muscle loss and lower bone density, which can put older people at higher risk of falls and broken bones.
While different factors come into play when taking GLP-1s at different stages of life, talking with a qualified healthcare professional is the best to way to navigate if these medications are safe and effective for you.
“[The] goal isn’t just to achieve a lower number on the scale, but to improve individuals’ overall health and reduce cardiometabolic health risks,” said Saunders.