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Obesity in kids linked to common cold virus

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new study out of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests a link between childhood obesity and a specific strain of the common cold.The study led by Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer found that 78 percent of children found to have antibodies specific to the AD36 strain were obese.

These common cold germs can cause sore throats and stomach ailments.

'"This is a particularly well done study and it is in children," said UCLA's Dr. James Cherry.

Dr. Cherry, who is an expert on pediatric infectious diseases, includes a section in his text book series on the obesity virus link. He says previous research on monkeys, rats and mice showed how AD36 affects the body's sugar metabolism and can cause fat cells to enlarge and proliferate.

"In animals this type of virus can lead to obesity," said Dr. Cherry. "So that's what makes it interesting."

In the study, 22 percent of obese kids had antibodies compared to 7 percent of normal weight kids.

Also researchers found the obese kids who showed evidence of prior AD36 infection were on average 35 pounds heavier than obese kids who did not have antibodies.

If scientists can prove a cause and effect relationship, these findings could lead to a whole new way of treating obesity.

"One approach to that would be a vaccine, a specific vaccine for that viral type," said Dr. Cherry.

But study authors did point out their report does not prove AD36 causes obesity. And Dr. Cherry says just having antibodies does not prove a person was exposed to the virus.

"Measuring antibody is not finding virus," said Dr. Cherry.

So until researchers find a definitive link, Dr. Cherry says people should be concerned about diet and exercise rather than an obesity virus.

"There are a lot of things to worry about, but I wouldn't worry about that," said Dr. Cherry.

Dr. Cherry says as of now, there is no test for AD36 available to the public. And many kids do get adenovirus infections, but AD36 is not all that common.

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