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Research Suggests Virus Could Lead To Childhood Obesity

September 20, 2010

New research, published in the September 20 online edition of the journal Pediatrics, suggests that a virus that causes respiratory infections could also be a trigger for childhood obesity.

Researchers, including University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Jeffery B. Schwimmer, studied 124 children ranging from eight to 18-years of age. Specifically, according to a UC San Diego press release, they were searching for “the presence of antibodies specific to adenovirus 36 (AD36), one of more than 50 strains of adenovirus known to infect humans and cause a variety of respiratory, gastrointestinal and other infections.”

Of the children who participated in the study, 67 were considered clinically obese using Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements. Fifteen of those obese subjects (15%) contained the AD36 antibodies, while only four of the 57 non-obese children tested positive. Furthermore, according to the study, AD36-positive children weight an average of nearly 50-pounds more than those who did not carry the antibodies. Furthermore, solely within the obese subgroup, those who carried the AD36 antibodies weighed an average of 35 pounds more than those who did not.

“Many people believe that obesity is one’s own fault or the fault of one’s parents or family,” Schwimmer said. “This work helps point out that body weight is more complicated than it’s made out to be. And it is time that we move away from assigning blame in favor of developing a level of understanding that will better support efforts at both prevention and treatment.”

According to the press release, Schwimmer and his colleagues also noted that the virus, when placed in cell cultures, infects immature fat cells and causes them to develop more rapidly and propagate in greater numbers than usual. “This might be the mechanism for obesity,” the UC San Diego professor and director of Weight and Wellness at California’s Rady Children’s Hospital noted.

Julian Hamilton-Shield, professor of diabetes and metabolic endocrinology at the University of Bristol’s School of Clinical Sciences, isn’t convinced, however.

“It’s an interesting if small and non-definitive study,” he told BBC News on Sunday. “This does not show causation, just an association. For instance, it may be that obese people are at more risk of catching AD36. However, it does add a little evidence to suggestions that AD36 may be implicated in some way with childhood obesity.”

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