Does Adenovirus 36 Infection Cause Childhood Obesity?

Findings from new a study of Southern California children support the idea that a viral infection may play a role in causing or contributing to obesity. 

Reported in the Sept. 20, 2010 online edition of Pediatrics, researchers led by Dr. Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at University of California, San Diego, studied 124 children aged 8-18 years in primary clinics in San Diego for the presence of antibodies specific to adenovirus 36 (AD36), which is the only human adenovirus currently linked to human obesity. 

Of the 124 children 67 (54%) were defined as obese based on a body mass index in the 95th percentile or greater (Pediatrics Sept. 20, 1010 [Epub doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3362]). Of these 124 children 19 (15%) had neutralizing antibodies specific to AD36. A whopping 78% of these AD36-positive children were obese. 

On average, children who were AD36-positive weighed almost 50 pounds more than their peers who were AD36-negative. In addition, obese children who were AD36-positive infection weighed an average of 35 pounds more than obese children who were AD36-negative. 

“Many people believe that obesity is one’s own fault or the fault of one’s parents or family,” Dr. Schwimmer commented in a prepared statement about the study (a downloadable video of Dr. Schwimmer highlighting the findings is also available). “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.” 

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

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Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, IMNG, Pediatrics, Primary care

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