A pill could soon provide a new weapon in the battle of the bulge - thanks to scientists who have discovered a "fat controller" in the body which could be the key to staying slim and preventing heart ailments.
In fact, an international team has pinpointed an enzyme that determines whether the fat people eat is burnt off as energy or stored in the body, a breakthrough which raises the prospect of a pill to target the enzyme, allowing people to eat without the risk of putting on weight.
In their study on laboratory rodents, the team, led by California University, focused on MGAT2, an enzyme found in intestines of mice as well as humans.
Mice without the protein were able to eat a high-fat diet while remaining slim and healthy. The fat they absorbed was burnt off as energy, rather than stored, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
The mice in the experiment also seemed better at processing sugar, cutting their risk of diabetes, and had lower levels of "bad" cholesterol in their blood.
"Our studies identify MGAT2 as a key determinant of energy metabolism in response to dietary fat and suggest that the inhibition of this enzyme may prove to be a useful strategy for treating obesity and other metabolic diseases associated with excessive fat intake," the scientists said.
Mice treated with AICAR for four weeks burned more calories and had less fat than untreated mice and when tested on a treadmill, they could run almost 50 per cent longer.
Researcher Prof Ronald Evans, of the Salk Institute in California, said: "We have exercise in a pill. It is tricking the muscle into believing it's been exercised daily. It proves you can have a pharmacological equivalent to exercise."
The study has been published in the 'Nature Medicine' journal.