Obesity is a major health problem and as a result, it is reasonable to consider pharmacological approaches alongside approaches involving diet, physical activity and lifestyle change. The currently available drugs, sibutramine and orlistat, result in modest, clinically worthwhile weight loss, with demonstrable improvements in co-morbidity, but do not meet the often unrealistic expectations of patients or health care professionals managing obese patients. There is insufficient data on efficacy or safety of other agents to support their use. Many new pharmacological approaches are under investigation. These include gut hormones, such a peptide YY (3-36) and cholecystokinin that normally signal satiety, and centrally-acting agents such as serotonin agonists, the anticonvulsants topiramate and zonisamide, cannabinoid receptor antagonists and drugs that act on other peptide neurotransmitter systems such as NPY and the melanocortins. Given the multiple pathways that influence energy balance, it is likely that therapies targeting more than one control system may be required in the future to meet the expectations and needs of patients needing to lose weight for medical reasons.