This week, a Food Drug Administration panel issued an opinion that the new obesity drug Qnexa– a combination of the migraine medication Topamax and one half of the popular yet disastrous obesity drug fen-phen, phentermine- had benefits outweighing its risks, despite concerns over heart damage and birth defects.
And indeed, the market for drugs that have a palpable effect on obesity without severe health risks is wanting- few options exist outside bariatric surgery (a step many feel is drastic and unnecessary) and standard dieting, with the latter option clearly not having that much of an impact on America’s obesity epidemic. Part of the reason obesity is such a persistent problem among Americans too is that the issue is caused by a multitude of factors and thus difficult to tackle with a single therapy such as drugs.
The Chicago Tribune ran a piece citing experts on nutrition and obesity, two of whom commented with mixed feelings on the expected impact of drug therapies for obesity. Dr. Mitchell Roslin is chief of bariatric surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York, and he explains:
“Having a drug for obesity would be like telling me you had a drug for the fever. There can be millions of different reasons why someone is obese; it’s really a symptom of various underlying mechanisms.”
Dr. David Katz of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center commented on the relative newness of an obesity epidemic among humans, who have evolved essentially to horde energy and as such, excess weight:
“Throughout most of human history calories were scarce and hard to get, so we have numerous natural defenses against starvation… We have no defenses against overeating because we never needed them before.”
The only drug currently on the market to treat obesity is Xenical or alli- which is generally not preferred by patients due to digestive side effects as well as a mild impact on weight loss.