Exposure to Cold Virus Linked to Obesity Epidemic among Children: Research May Partly Explain Why Kids Are Getting Heavier

By Saey, Tina Hesman | Science News, October 9, 2010 | Go to article overview

Exposure to Cold Virus Linked to Obesity Epidemic among Children: Research May Partly Explain Why Kids Are Getting Heavier


Saey, Tina Hesman, Science News


Childhood obesity is not only an epidemic, it may be an infectious disease transmitted by a common cold virus, a new study suggests.

Children exposed to adenovirus-36 were more likely to be obese than were children who had no evidence of infection, according to a study published online September 20 in Pediatrics. The new study is the latest to link the virus to obesity in people. Recent studies of Korean children and American and Italian adults have shown that obese people are more likely to have antibodies against the virus--a sign of a prior infection--than normal-weight people.

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Adenoviruses are among the many viruses responsible for causing colds and stomach ailments in people.

In the new study, 67 obese and 57 normal-weight children ranging in age from 8 to 18 had their blood tested for antibodies against adenovirus-36. Researchers led by Jeffrey Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of California, San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, found antibodies in 19 of the children. Of those children found to carry the antibody, 15 were obese and four were of normal weight.

Not only were obese children more likely to have antibodies to the virus--22 percent of obese children had the antibodies compared with 7 percent of normal-weight kids--but obese kids with evidence of previous adenovirus-36 infections were about 35 pounds heavier on average than obese children who hadn't caught the virus.

"That's enormous," says Richard Atkinson, an endocrinologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and founder of Obetech, a company that tests for antibodies against adenovirus-36. Atkinson also holds a patent on a vaccine against the virus.

The new work bolsters evidence from previous studies in both animals and people showing that adenovirus-36 is associated with obesity, Atkinson says. Chickens, mice, rats and monkeys infected with the virus all get fat even though the animals don't eat more or exercise less than they did before they were infected (SN: 8/5/00, p. 87). Experiments on human cells in laboratory dishes explain how the virus promotes weight gain- adult stem cells infected with the virus make more fat cells, and those fat cells store more fat than normal (SN: 8/25/07, p. …

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