MONDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- At least part of the blame
for childhood obesity might be traced to a unexpected cause -- a
certain strain of the virus that causes the common cold.
New research shows that youngsters who were infected by
adenovirus 36, which causes the common cold and slight
gastrointestinal upset, were an average of 50 pounds heavier than
children who hadn't been infected by this particular strain.
"Obesity and body weight regulation is far more complex than is typically discussed, and these data support the idea that a viral infection could be one important cause of obesity," said study senior author Dr. Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, director of the weight and wellness program at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.
This study doesn't, however, suggest that people should give up
on healthy eating and exercise. "Regardless of the extent to which
this impacts body weight, there's no question that eating
healthfully and having regular, fun physical activity is good for
you. The reason we care about these behaviors is improving health,"
What Schwimmer does hope the findings will do is get people to
"move away from assigning blame, and broaden the way we think about
obesity. Currently, there's a somewhat simplistic belief that
obesity is just a person's own fault, or in the case of children,
the fault of the family. But, that's an overly simplistic view, and
it's not helpful," he said.
Other studies, done in animals and human adults, have already
shown an association between viral infections and obesity, but the
exact relationship between those factors still isn't well known,
according to Schwimmer.
The current study included 124 children between the ages of 8
and 18. Sixty-two percent of the children were Hispanic, 27 percent
were white and 11 percent were black. Fifty-six percent were male.
More than half of the children -- 67 -- were considered obese based
on their body-mass measurements for their age and gender.
Fifteen percent of the children had antibodies to adenovirus 36
(AD36), which means that at some point, they had been infected with
this virus. Schwimmer said this particular strain of adenovirus was
first identified in the 1980s.
Almost one in four (22 percent) obese children tested positive
for AD36 compared to just 7 percent of the non-obese children. On
average, children who were positive for a previous adenovirus 36
infection were about 50 pounds heavier than those who tested
Even within the entire group of obese children, those who were
AD36-positive weighed about 35 pounds more than obese children who
hadn't been infected with AD36.
Results of the study appear in the Sept. 20 online issue of
If the association proves true, Schwimmer said that a vaccine
could be developed against AD36 that might help prevent obesity --
although that's still a long way off. In addition, he said, for
those who've already been infected with AD36, knowing that there's
a potential viral cause might eventually lead to changes in the way
certain people are treated for obesity. "That knowledge might lead
to more aggressive measures earlier on if we see someone isn't
losing weight as well," said Schwimmer, who added that his study
was the first of its kind. He believes the findings raise more
questions than they answer when it comes to optimal treatments for
For his part, Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight
Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of
Pittsburgh, said the findings bring up the "age-old chicken or egg
problem -- Does this virus disrupt certain pathways and cause
obesity? Or, do obese kids tend to have this virus more often?"
In addition, he noted that the number of children with the
infection was relatively small -- just 19 kids.
"People want a magic solution," Rao said, "but unfortunately we don't have one. What people can do is focus on a child's behaviors and eliminate the unhealthy behaviors."
He said that kids shouldn't skip breakfast and should limit
sweet beverages (soda
and juice) and fast food. Physical activity needs to be a
daily habit and families need to eat meals together as much as
possible, he advised. In addition, parents need to limit time
watching TV, computer time and time spent playing video games.
"If you can change these behaviors, you'd reduce most childhood obesity," Rao believes.
For more on the known causes of obesity, read this information
U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood
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