Can You Catch a Fat Bug?

By Steven Luke
|  Monday, Sep 20, 2010  |  Updated 9:06 PM PDT
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Can You "Catch" Fat?

A San Diego pediatrician is making news for his study suggesting obesity may be contagious.
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Could a common virus be a cause or contributor to obesity? A San Diego pediatrician says his research proves the connection is not as far-fetched as some would believe.

A study followed 124 San Diego kids ages four to 18 over three years.

Researchers checked whether the children had the antibodies for adenovirus 36 or AD-36, a virus shown to be linked to obesity in animals.

Basically the virus gets into the fat cells, increases the amount of fat in those cells and makes new fat cells.

In the study commissioned out of UC San Diego, roughly half the kids were obese. Of those children, kids who tested positive for AD-36 weighed on average 35 pounds more than the obese kids who tested negative.

"It does look like this virus in fact could be a cause or contributor to obesity," said Jeffrey Schwimmer, M.D. a pediatrician with Rady’s Children’s Hospital.

While Schwimmer says the numbers are very convincing, he is also quick to point out that AD-36 is likely one of many factors in weight gain.

AD-36 starts off as a cold. Testing to identify the presence of AD-36 is expensive and labor-intensive, which is why children who contract AD-36 would never know it.

Schwimmer says the study raises more questions about where we go from here like how to better treat obese individuals who've had the virus.

"Now what we have is a big challenge, we need to really fill in some of the gaps to understand just how much a contributor is this really,” said Schwimmer. “If it turns out to be a large contributor than the development of a vaccine could be worthwhile."

Several similar studies have been done using animals, but this is the first study involving children.

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