I won’t mince words: I’m not the skinniest guy out there, and I could certainly stand to drop some pounds. A relatively sedentary lifestyle and a fairly low amount of willpower definitely contribute to this. And I’m not alone: two thirds of Americans are overweight.
To remedy the obesity epidemic, pharmaceuticals are attempting to develop weight loss drugs that work by a variety of mechanisms. A recent Popular Science article chronicles the efforts of a number of scientists to produce the "magic pill." Drugs like Acomplia (which interestingly was discovered by trying to reverse the effect of "the munchies" induced by marijuana use) try to curb appetite by interfering with the central nervous system, but end up interfering with a whole slew of other essential processes, causing side effects like, say, suicide. Suicide is probably the worst side effect out there, so no more Acomplia. Tesofensine, a drug developed by Danish scientists, shows more potential, but still might interfere with other systems, as well as producing less-than-earth-shattering results. The most promising drug, Amylin, regulates the appetite by delivering hormonal signals like the ones produced by the endocrine system when you're feeling "full." The only problem is that Amylin can only be administered via an injection, twice a day.
The article attributes the difficulty of finding a fat-busting drug to evolution. Think about it. Until recently (in evolutionary terms), we had to worry about having enough energy stored, not too much. In prior eras, a large belly was associated with a degree of success -- think of all the political cartoons involving hefty bankers and businessmen. Even now, the obesity problem seems to only exist in fairly well-off countries. We still hear of a hunger crisis in places like Africa while America's problem is having collectively ingested too many calories.
The point is, storing energy -- i.e., fat -- has historically been absolutely necessary for survival, so it has become hardwired in many different ways into the human physiology via evolution. Popular Science quotes Barry Levin, a neurologist researching obesity at New Jersey's VA Medical Center: "How would you build a machine that would ensure you would eat when your energy stores are low? . . . You would build in a huge amount of redundancy to make sure that the machine eats. Every time you interfere with one of those systems, another one kicks in." Successfully bypassing the survival mechanism would require either a large supply of compound administered in such a way as to slip by the body's defenses (e.g. shots) or would interfere with a tangle of other processes (such as mood).
While recognizing the body's evolutionary predisposition toward hoarding, I think the article takes on a much more fatalistic slant than it should, trying to take the blame off of the overweight people in question. The first paragraph on the final page is especially egregious, citing lifestyle change as an outmoded solution to the problem. It also states that the concept of obesity as a failure of will was created by those who had never been fat.
As one who is carrying more than he should be, I can refute that last part right now by admitting fault for my condition. I recognize that with increased motivation toward diet and exercise, I could be much healthier. As to lifestyle change, I have witnessed multiple instances in which various acquaintances have dropped astonishing amounts of weight by simply becoming more disciplined about their habits. I could never pop a pill to solve a problem knowing that simple perseverence would have the same result. Our evolutionary tendencies, while a challenge, will never be an excuse.