UCSD researchers link childhood obesity to virus

By City News Service

A viral infection could be among the causes of childhood obesity, according to a newly released study conducted by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The study led by Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer found that 78 percent of children found to have antibodies specific to the AD36 strain were obese.

The results were published in today’s edition of the online journal “Pediatrics.”

Schwimmer, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics, and his team studied 124 San Diego-area children aged 8 to 18, with 67 of them in the 95th or higher percentile for body mass index.

AD36 was found in 19 of the children, and only four weren’t obese.

Additionally, children with AD36 weighed - on average - 50 pounds more than those who were AD36-negative. Obese children with AD36 averaged 35 more pounds than overweight youngsters without the virus.

“This work points out that body weight is more complicated than it’s been 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,” Schwimmer said.

AD36 is one of more than 50 strains of adenovirus that affects humans and causes respiratory, gastrointestinal and other problems. It is unknown how, or how often, AD36 infects humans and why it affects people differently.

In cell cultures, the virus causes immature fat cells to develop faster and multiply in greater numbers than normal, Schwimmer said.