The Supreme Court ruling on the affordable care act wasn’t the only health care news this week. Arena Pharmaceuticals had the oral medication Belviq approved for the indication of weight loss- which is a rare occasion as the FDA only very occasionally approves anything for weight control. As our county gets heavier and heavier with each passing year, this company won’t be short on paying customers for their new product. And some would argue that obesity is so dangerous and so prevalent in our society that we have nowhere to turn other than pharmacologic interventions. I think in some cases for some individuals it indeed may be the only solution. But I’m more scared of what the mere availability of this pill means for America.
A weight loss pill is just another reason not to lose weight. It’s another reason for insurance companies not to pay for weight management programs. It’s another reason to cut programs that educate folks in low-income areas about how to eat healthfully and get exercise. It’s another reason for America to eat themselves to death. And although there may be a pill for you when you reach three times the amount of a healthy weight, this pill was proven to only help people lose 5% of their body weight, and it can’t do anything about all the damage you did you getting there. Joint problems. Heart problems. Atherosclerosis. A higher risk for many cancers. The damage done by obesity cannot be solved by a pill. But knowing a quick fix exists will incentivize people to stop trying.
One of the biggest challenges with obesity is that once a person’s body weight is at the obese level, it becomes increasingly difficult to lose weight and keep it off. The body, though excellent at storing fat, does not like to lose it, and will fight to keep those fat cells full. In today’s society, we have easily available fat stores on every corner. Just yesterday in watching one half hour of TV I saw no less than three fast food commercials: one from Taco Bell explaining that you need a fourth meal every day and it should come from them in the form of a “Dorito Chip Taco”; one from Pizza Hut Touting their new pizza sandwiches; and one from KFC bragging about an entire “family meal” consisting of fried chicken, corn, and cake for under $15. It is so easy to be obese in this society.
What’s not easy is real change. I am not so naïve to think that obesity is simply an issue of willpower. People need to the tools, education, and support to make the right choices. Imagine if instead of developing a pill, we brought back PE to our schools. Imagine if diet and exercise coaches were provided to every pre-diabetic in America. Imagine if we didn’t make it so easy to get big and so hard to stay healthy.
Until we decide to treat the causes of the obesity problem and not the end result, we will continue to grow waistlines in this nation. And costs, and lost workdays, and deaths due to obesity-related issues. The domino effect of this is infinite. And no pill can stop that.
Stay healthy this weekend my friends!