The UK's National Health Service is thinking of restricting treatment to smokers and to obese people who won't help themselves. Obese people often claim they can't help themselves, and now scientists are tending to agree with them.
Now, researchers at the Klinik Hirslanden in Zurich believe that a mutation in the gene MC4R is responsible for the binges. It was discovered in 5 per cent of obese patients they studied, but also in 4 per cent of controls, which would seem to counter the finding.
It also doesn't explain why the vast majority of people still binge-eat.
Undeterred, the pharmaceutical industry is already mounting its campaign to counter the errant MC4R gene. At the moment, they try to treat obesity with antihypertensive agents, hypoglycaemic drugs and lipid-lowering medications, none of which seem to work too well.
So look out for melanocortin agonists - the mutant busters - at a surgery near you in the not-too-distant future.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2003; 348: 1096-103).