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There’s a new injection to treat obesity, but what could it mean for the future of weight loss?

By Max / Published on Thursday, 08 Aug 2019 11:21 AM / No Comments / 548 views

Earlier this week, I was standing on the escalators of the Tube when an advert caught my eye. At first glance it looked like an advert for cigarettes, which made me double-take with disbelief. In actuality, it was an obesity awareness poster by Cancer Research with the tag line “Obesity causes cancer too” across a cigarette box.

While the campaign has been widely criticised for “fat-shaming” and for equating smoking, which is viewed as a choice, with obesity, which can have a number of underlying medical and mental health causes, it brings an important topic to the forefront of social discussion. According to the World Health Organisation, the prevalence of obesity has more than tripled since 1975, and in 2016, 39% of adults aged 18 years and over (39% of men and 40% of women) were overweight globally. Recent research has shown that obesity could soon overtake smoking as the number one cause of preventable death, with overexposure to UV through sunbathing and sun-bed use being the third. Obesity is known to cause 13 types of cancer, including bowel, breast, kidney and womb as well as leading to diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It is undoubtedly a world-wide problem that causes a lot of pain, distress and heartbreak.

Currently, treatment for obesity is primarily diet, lifestyle and mental-health based, with surgery reserved for the most complex cases. Weightloss surgery including a gastric band and a gastric bypass is often a last resort – it is incredibly invasive and has a number of serious risks associated with the procedures.

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So, when the news broke that there might be a potential treatment that is minimally invasive and relatively risk adverse, it unsurprising caused a flurry of excitement and hope across the medical community and beyond. Scientists at Imperial College London have created an injection containing a combination of three hormones, which has been shown in a trial to result in significantly reduced body weight and blood glucose levels after just four weeks.

Previous research had shown that a big factor behind the success of weight loss surgery was because the bowel starts to release of three hormones in higher levels post surgery. According to an article on the university’s website, the combination of these hormones “reduces appetite, causes weight loss and improves the body’s ability to use the sugar absorbed from eating”. Now, the scientists have managed to infuse these hormones into a test group of 15 participants intravenously. The participants lost on average 4.4kg over four weeks, and none had any side effects. Although this was less than patients who had received surgery (who lost between 8.3kg – 10.3kg in the same time period), the ease of administration combined with the lessened risk presents a very promising result that could revolutionise management and outlook of obesity in the future.

While response across the medical community is hopeful, the wider response has been one of intrigue, fascination and, in some cases, trepidation. Is there the potential for the injection become available to all – as a cosmetic treatment? Could people receive the treatment as a prevention if there were a little overweight? Will people rely on it as a ‘quick-fix’, rather than addressing harmful dietary habits and a food industry that fuels them? Time will tell.

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