Fat virus: Is obesity contagious? A doctor’s opinion on those studies.

Is there a fat virus?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

A few days ago I started hearing a lot about the fat virus–not a new concept.  But all of a sudden, the news was on the radio, television, newspapers and Internet that a scientist had discovered that the adenovirus AD-36, which causes the common cold, might make you fat.  The hypothesis is the virus infects fats cells and makes them duplicate so, even without eating more, you gain fat.

I don’t think there was a new study or revelation, so why the big deal?

Apparently, the scientist was featured in a BBC special, “Why are thin people not fat?” which aired January 26.  The British press caught the PR bug and away we go.  But is the hype deserved?

I don’t know the answer to that and don’t want to just blow this off.  There have been stranger discoveries.  A few years ago, the scientists who proposed a bacteria caused stomach ulcers were laughed off the podium.  The scientists got the last laugh.  We now know they were correct.  Infections may be linked to heart disease, also.

As best I can tell, the fat virus findings are association studies.  I’ve explained in the past that these are weak but essential studies.  According to news reports, AD-36 antibodies (proof of the viral infection) were found in obese people three times more than non-obese.  Assuming these findings meet statistical standards, we still don’t know if the virus caused the obesity or if obese people are more susceptible to the virus.  Maybe the virus caused people to exercise less.  There are dozens of explanations.

But there have been followup, more focused and controlled, animal studies.  Animals purposely infected with the virus get fatter than their counterparts.  When you think of it, that’s all the proof we have in many cancer risk associations, even with BPA in children.  We have an association of increased disease with increased exposure in humans, along with proof that deliberately exposing animals causes the disease.

Still, I’m not buying the excuse, “It’s not my fault; I caught obesity,” just yet.

What did you think when you heard the news?

Doctors and business owners: Send customized issues of James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor to your customers or patients. E-mail publisher-at-familydoctormag.com for details.

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9 Responses to “Fat virus: Is obesity contagious? A doctor’s opinion on those studies.”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Interesting article. I suspect the viruses favorite mode of transmission is hidden in a large slice of cheesecake :-)

    Dr. Js last blog post..Nibbles: Cutting calories can improve memory, peanut plant had sanitation violations, and looking in on Dunkin’ Donuts

  2. Sagan Says:

    That’s fascinating. I look forward to when they do a little more research!

    Sagans last blog post..Eat Your Veggies!

  3. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Dr. J, I tend to agree.

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Sagan me too,

    Even if they find a real connection, I have got to think there is more to it.

  5. FatFighterTV Says:

    Whenever I see these virus/obesity studies I just hope people don’t use it as an excuse and not do something about their weight. I look forward to more research, as well.

  6. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:


    Me too. Even if a virus is involved, 1. there is no cure for viruses, 2. You will just have to work harder on diet and exercise.


  7. Dan Says:

    Thoughts about Obesity

    Obesity has been defined as when excess body fat accumulates in one to where their physical overgrowth makes the person unhealthy to varying degrees. Obesity is different than being overweight, as others determine obesity to be of a more serious concern.
    As measured by one’s body mass index (BMI), one’s BMI of 25 to 30 kg/m is considered overweight. If their BMI is 30 to 35 kg/m, they are class I obese, 35 to 40 BMI would be class II obese, and any BMI above 40 is class III obesity.
    Presently, with obesity affecting children progressively more, the issue of obesity has become a serious public health concern.
    Approximately half of all children under the age of 12 are either obese are overweight. About twenty percent of children ages 2 to 5 years old are either obese are overweight. The consequences of these stats on our children are very concerning, considering the health issues they may or likely experience as they get older.
    Worldwide, nearly one and a half billion people are either obese or overweight. In the United States, about one third of adults are either obese or overweight.
    Women of low socioeconomic status are likely to be twice as obese compared with those who are not at this status. It is now predicted that, for the first time in about 150 years, our life expectancy is suppose to decline because primarily of this obesity problem.
    Morbid obesity is defined as one who has a body mass index of 30 kg/m or greater, and this surgery, along with the three other types of surgery for morbid obesity, should be considered a last resort after all other methods to reduce the patient’s weight have chronically failed. Morbid obesity greatly affects the health of the patient in a very negative way. It has about 10 co-morbidities that can develop if the situation is not corrected. Some if not most of these co-morbidities are life-threatening.
    One solution beneficial in many cases of morbid obesity if one’s obesity is not eventually controlled or corrected is what is known as gastric bypass surgery. This is a type of bariatric surgery that essentially reduces the volume of the human stomach in order to correct and treat morbid obesity by surgical re-construction of the stomach and small intestine.
    Patients for such surgeries are those with a BMI of greater than 40, or a BMI greater than 35 if the patient has co-morbidities aside from obesity. This surgery should be considered for the severely obese when other treatment options have failed. The standard of care illustrating as to whether this surgery is reasonable and necessary should be clarified.
    There are three surgical variations of gastric bypass surgery, and one is chosen by the surgeon based on their experience and success from the variation they will utilize. Generally, these surgeries are procedures related to gastric restrictive operations or mal-absorptive operations.
    Over 200,000 gastric bypass surgeries are performed each year, and this surgery being performed continues to progress as a suitable option for the morbidly obese. There is evidence that this surgery is particularly beneficial for those obese patients that have non-insulin dependent Diabetes Mellitus as well.
    It is believed that the results of this surgery to correct morbid obesity greatly limits or prevents such co-morbidities associated with those who are obese. Yet about two percent of those who undergo this surgery die as a result from about a half a dozen complications that could occur. However, the surgery reduces the overall mortality of the patient by 40 percent or so, yet this percentage is debatable due to conflicting clinical studies at times.
    Age of the patient should be taken into consideration, as to whether or not the risks of this surgery outweigh any potential benefits for the patient who may have existing co-morbidities that have already caused physiological damage to the patient. Also what should be determined by the surgeon is the amount of safety, effectiveness, and rationale for a particular patient regarding those patients who are elderly, for example.
    Many feel bariatric surgery such as this should be considered as a last resort when exercise and diet have failed for a great length of time.
    If a person or a doctor is considering this type of surgery, there is a website dedicated to bariatric surgery, which is: http://www.asmbs.org,

    Dan Abshear

  8. Ginna Dorkin Says:

    Interesting article. I agree to what you said and waiting for further research in it.
    In my case, my doctor, Dr. Nilesh A. Patel suggested me to do some modification in diet and to include exercise in daily routine, which might help me to reduce my obesity problem without going for a major surgery. If you have any question or want a detailed consultation regarding gastric bypass surgery, meet Dr. Patel at Texas Bariatric Specialists in Corpus Christi. Visit here
    gastric bypass corpus christi

  9. Fit Dad Plan Says:

    Having started a healthy diet I am always searching for help on foods to eat, ideas to follow. I have to say Ireally was enlighteded by your article and so wanted to leave you a thank you.

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