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Why isn't there a safe weight-loss pill?

May 3, 2011

Obesity can't be cured by pills, shots or even surgery.

If only it were that easy.

Despite centuries of supposed weight-loss remedies from anti-obesity soaps, crash diets based on vinegar to even amphetamines, fads have failed.

Over the years, Americans have become more obsessed with weight loss, but not much healthier as more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese.

Drugs have not effectively answered the problem, despite billions of dollars spent in research.

Obesity has more factors than just eating too much, according to research. The reasons why people gain excess weight vary -- and one drug isn't likely to address all these factors including lifestyle, food access and environment.

Our brains have a natural tendency to desire eating beyond need, to store in case of scarcity and famine, scientists say. That doesn't work well in the modern day when calorie-dense foods are readily available.

"We might not have any magic bullet," for obesity said Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, chair of medical research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. "We might have to use a bomb. You have to be very comprehensive."

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group -- part of the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen -- isn't hopeful about the development of an effective and safe weight-loss drug.

"The possibility that the drug will only do the good things like lose weight and not have myriad effects on the body -- is zero," he said.

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