Can obesity be treated like an illness?

The population of obesity has become overwhelming, and is continuing to grow in size. Once a obesityperson is technically classified as obese, it’s likely that they’d rather stay in their current state of being overweight rather than exercising and/or dieting to lose the weight. What can obese individuals who want to lose weight but are too obese to find motivation do at this point? Scientists have only made a few drugs available to obese patients seeking and/or in need of help. Interested if obesity can actually be treated with medicine as if it were an illness, I searched studies related to this topic. Here is what I found:

In this 2009 study, scientists conducted a 20-week double-blind placebo trial of 564 obese participants (ages 18-65) to examine the effectiveness of the drug liraglutide (an anti-diabetic medication that can not only be used for diabetes, but for the promotion of weight loss as well) on the weight and tolerance of obese people (without type 2 diabetes). Subjects were either given doses (either 1.2 mg, 1.8 mg, 2.4 mg, or 3.0 mg) of liraglutide or the placebo pill for 20 weeks. The pill was either applied once a day under the skin or taken orally three times a day. Participants were also subject to increase their amount of physical activity and were restricted to a 500 kcal diet per day. These variables were randomized across all groups by averaging/equaling out the aspects of the subjects in order to eliminate bias.

Here is what the double blind placebo experiment and its control arms looked like:


1-s2-0-s0140673609613751-gr2The data at the end of the study found that obese individuals who were given the liraglutide for the 20-week period, lost more weight than those who were given the placebo, concluding that liraglutide is effective for weight loss for obese people. This is supported by p values of p=0.003 (1.2 and 2.4 mg liraglutide) and p<0.0001 (1.8 and 3.0 mg liraglutide). These values suggest that the results are real rather than a product of chance.

Overall, the drug, accompanied by lower food intake and increase of physical activity, resulted in more efficient weight loss than the placebo pill accompanied by lower food intake and increase of exercise, like it was predicted to. This suggests that liraglutide is sufficient for aid in weight loss of obese people

There was also, according to the study, a correlation found between liraglutide and a decrease in blood pressure as well as pre-diabetes. On the downside however, participants given the drug experienced more vomiting and nausea than those who were given the placebo. According to the study, the mechanism explaining weight loss using liraglutide has to do with effects on the gastrointestinal tract and the brain which cause weight loss and reduction in food intake.

Both the results and mechanism of this study can be compared to the results of similar liraglutide studies done on obese mini pigs , obese candy-fed rats, and both obese and normal rats. The results also suggested the same mechanism as the human study did. If the mini pigs and rat studies are generalized, then it would make sense to administer the use of this drug because weight loss to reduce obesity is a good thing (obesity is bad). However, one must consider: How bad is obesity really? Is there is more gain than loss? Do the results of these four studies matter enough to mean this drug should be administered to all obese people? Would this be considered a remedy to reduce or even prevent obesity? I would say, given the results of all the studies, it doesn’t seem like it would hurt to give it a try. However, the only restrictions I would hold against it would be that there hasn’t been enough or large enough of these studies to come to a confident conclusion of those questions. Also, some ideas for future studies include: A study that works toward further eliminating bias within the study, a study that tests the drug on people who are predisposed to obesity to see if the drug is efficient enough to possibly work as an obesity prevention medication, A longitudinal study to test the long term effects (longer than 20 weeks) of the drug on obese people and its efficiency, etc. The experimental design was relatively strong but there is definitely room for improvement.

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