Tom Hughes wants to change the way you think about obesity.
As the chief executive officer of Zafgen, a company developing a weight-loss medicine that went public in June, he has reason to. But he argues the evidence just doesn't stack up to support the idea that diet and exercise can effectively reverse obesity.
"Treating obesity with dietary prevention and exercise is like putting sunscreen on melanoma. It's too late," Hughes told CNBC. "People who have established obesity, they will need treatments, they will need care to get out of that, and unless we wake up to that fact and understand and research what is at the heart of that problem, we're not going to have an answer."
Hughes noted that diet and exercise have shown in dozens of studies to help people lose about 3 to 5 percent of their body weight in the course of a year.
"That's about it," he said. "For somebody who needs to lose 100 pounds, that's more like 30 percent weight loss, and we know that diet and exercise are really out of that reach."