Paralleling the advancement of society and increasing level of civilization has been the rise of obesity and overnutrition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than one third (35.7%) of adults in the United States are obese. Obesity is a source of many health-related problems including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. There have been many efforts to cure this societal plague but mostly in vain. These efforts have included new diets coming out every year, new and easier exercises, and even pills that claim to shed the pounds for you. It is true that when you exercise and diet that this is one of the most effective ways to lose weight but in today’s fast-paced society people are no longer making time to exercise or construct a new diet. It is much easier to take a pill and let something else do the work for you. Recent studies have been moving toward this venue of treatment for obesity. It seems that we are getting close to something that could lose weight for us allowing a freedom of lifestyle not burdened by diet and exercise. But, what would this mean to society and the way we live? Would it truly be a benefit or could it burden us further?
Over the past decade researchers have found that the hormones insulin and leptin are possible regulators of body fat levels (body adiposity). These two hormones are very independent of one another within our bodies but they show overlapping themes in energy homeostasis. Defects in either of these may result in a poor ability to manage energy homostasis and glucose metabolism. There is a hypothesis that the two are subject to “cross-talk,” both activating the phosphatydalinostitol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway. Identification of the key early molecular events mediating the action of insulin and leptin could result in new insight into obesity treatment. One of the more promising treatments coming from this research is the fact that leptin is able to reduce food intake. If more was understood about this process we could potentially prescribe leptin treatment reducing the amount of food intake of a patient. We could eventually really have something here.
But what would this mean for society? If a “cure” for obesity were to be found it could drastically change how our world works. This treatment would potentially place the majority of the population at a healthy weight allowing them to increase their productivity in society. These people will most likely be happier, have more energy, have a higher self-esteem, etc. As lifespan increases as a result of the healthy body-weight productivity of these citizens would also be longer. These people would be less likely to get heart disease and therefore be healthier, longer. The amount of unhealthy people would potentially drastically decrease as those with higher weights were allowed an easy way to lose their weight. Despite its appeal, this may create a world that we might not like. Even though productivity would be expected to increase, would we become lazier people since all we would have to do is take a pill and be skinnier? Many would relish in the ability to opt out of working out to maintain a healthy body weight. What would become of the food industry? This could likely go either way. Would food industries’ income drastically increase because people are no longer afraid of what they eat? It could go the other way and the leptin treatment would cause people to eat much less leading to the food industry losing money. It would be very interesting to observe what direction they would go with the change in societal obesity.
Despite the desire to “cure” obesity allowing many to live out more comfortable and healthier lives, there are potentially many consequences. If we were to come up with a miracle pill to end obesity would it be ethical to withhold it from society out of fear of change or should we embrace the change and adapt?