Imagine a world where obesity is a disease of the past. A world where type 2 diabetes is a distant memory, and strokes caused by excess fat are so rare they’re long down the list of emergency room diagnosis.
Imagine a pill – one designed from your very own DNA – that could not only help you shed unwanted pounds, but could actually prevent you from packing them on in the first place.
It’s an alternate universe to the one we live in now. Obesity worldwide has more than doubled since 1980. Almost 40 percent of adults everywhere are overweight or obese.
The weight loss industry with its quick fixes and empty promises is still a lucrative business – and is expected to be worth $320bn by 2017.
But scientists aren’t put off by the statistics. In laboratories around the world, research teams are battling each other to create what could one day be a ‘cure’ for obesity. And the race is well and truly on.
Scientists at Queen Mary University of London have found a way to stop fat from developing at its earliest stages. Scientists from Houston Methodist Research Institute have discovered a drug that could be a weight-loss miracle.
And researchers in Qatar think they may’ve found a way to extract a personalised weight loss programme from the very building blocks of our bodies.
To understand how it all works, you need to understand one thing. White Fat and Brown Fat.
Good fat, bad fat
White Fat is the bad kind. The villain of the story, white fat sits there and does… well… not much. It’s big, it stores energy, and when you’ve got too much around the middle it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and bunch of other metabolic diseases.
Brown Fat on the other hand, is always at work. It’s compact and burns energy even when you’re standing still. We’re born with a fair amount of brown fat, but it disappears as we get older. Thin adults have more brown fat than their overweight counterparts, and they’re healthier for it.
So if you can stop white fat from developing, or find a way to turn white fat into brown… then you’re well on the way to curing obesity. But where does all this research lead us, if one day a magic pill for obesity really does exist? Can I therefore eat donuts all day every day, and still be classed as ‘healthy’? Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple.
It is possible to be a normal weight, but metabolically obese. Eating a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates will still put you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
In some ways being ‘skinny fat’ is worse – adults with a normal Body Mass Index and who have diabetes are twice at risk of death. The fat which wraps itself around our organs and is stored in the belly area – called visceral fat – plays a particularly dangerous role as it can lead to glucose intolerance.
Even skinny people can have bellies. So being a normal weight is a good thing, but it’s important we have a decent ratio of muscle to fat to ensure healthy levels of cholesterol, insulin resistance and fatty acids.
So step away from the chocolate, and back on the treadmill. It seems there really is no substitute for good old diet and exercise… even if a pill could one day make starting the healthy lifestyle journey that little bit easier.