Video: The future of weight-loss

NBC News
updated 2/25/2004 7:11:44 PM ET 2004-02-26T00:11:44

While there may be conflicting opinions about which diet works best there's no question about what dieters really want: the safe, magic pill that can take it all off. Is it possible?

For years, we've heard that a new miracle weight-loss drug might be just around the corner, one magic little skinny pill that would outweigh Atkins, South Beach, and Weight Watchers combined. First there was the discovery of a protein that helps us burn fat. Then last year, a promising study from England about an injectable hormone that caused people to eat 30 percent less.

But so far at least, nothing has panned out. Dr. Rudy Leibel, an expert on obesity at Columbia University says the ultimate weight loss fantasy pill is still a long way off.

Robert Bazell: “So, you're not going to have a weight loss pill, you pop it into your mouth, sit in front of the TV, have a couple beers and some potato chips, and lose weight.”

Dr. Leibel: “Not going to happen. Not, I think, in the near future.”

But don't give up hope. In fact, Leibel thinks the prospects for an effective weight loss pill are not bleak at all, because scientists working first with mice and now people, have learned a lot about how the body regulates weight -- what, for instance, keeps one mouse so skinny and makes the other one obese.

One of the most important findings is something that most dieters know from experience. It is much easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off. It is part of a system that our bodies have to protect against starvation.

Bazell: “So, if I imagine that it's easier for me to put on five pounds than it is to take off five pounds, it's not just my imagination.”

Dr. Leibel: “It's not your imagination. It's your biology speaking. Every calorie you eat actually counts for a little bit more than it did when you were at your usual or starting weight.  And that's one of the reasons why it's so darned easy to regain the weight that you spent so much hard time losing.”

And Leibel thinks that is where  medical science will offer effective medication: not a take-it-off pill, but a keep it off pill.

Dr. Leibel: “I really think there are two kinds of pills we need to be thinking about. One is the kind that actually would induce weight loss. And the other, which I happen to think is much more important, is the pill that would help a patient maintain a reduced body weight.”

And when might we have that keep it off pill?

Dr. Leibel: “It's sooner than some people, I think, would suspect.”

Bazell: “Three to five years?”

Dr. Leibel: “Hmm, five to seven.”

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