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All In The Family

Mike and his sister.
Mike and his sister.

I was so shocked and surprised when I opened an email this past weekend from my sister in California.

(Before I go any further, she gave me her permission to blog about it.)

She blitzed our extended family to inform us that she was at home recuperating from a gastric bypass.

She's been a yo-yo dieter for nearly all of her adult life, but I never saw her as obese.

A little heavy, overweight, maybe.

But not obese.

When I called her to talk about the news, my sister explained that she had only told her immediate family in advance of the procedure because she didn't want the rest of us offering opinions and advice. I get that. I asked her if she was classified as overweight or obese. She paused and then told me she was embarrassed to answer. She took a breath and said she had peaked at 237 pounds and had a body mass index of 41, one point over the BMI bar she said she needed to hit in order to qualify for the bypass operation. She was obese. I still have a hard time getting my head around that and thinking of her as being in that category. She considered the "Lap Band" from Allergan, but decided, as she put it, that she "didn't want plastic" in her body.

I briefly had a weight problem when I was in my early 20s. I'd moved to Montana to start my career and spent many nights out drinking too much Ranier beer. Next thing I knew, I had a paunch. But it wasn't until a few years later when I moved to Tucson that I joined a gym. I dropped the extra pounds in a matter of weeks and they've never come back.

For years now, but especially in recent months, I've been covering the obesity epidemic. I regularly report on the statistics and the experimental drug data, detached and "objective" as I think any good reporter should be. It just didn't occur to me that the target population might include my sister. Arena Pharmaceuticals, Orexigen and Vivus each has a new diet drug in late-stage development. We're going to see a lot of important test results out of all three of them in the near future. And last week, Amylin Pharmaceuticals unveiled promising mid-stage test results of an obesity treatment it's working on.

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The Centers for Disease Controlestimates that 29 percent of the U.S. population is obese. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. It is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for companies that can develop something that works safely. If they're successful, though, I hope and pray my sister will no longer need it. I also wish her a speedy recovery, much success with her new lifestyle and, of course, good health.

P.S. Even though people say my sister and I look alike, I was adopted. My sister was not.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

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