Children who tested positive for a virus strain that causes respiratory and gastrointestinal illness weigh more than those who didn’t, suggesting that infections may cause or contribute to obesity, a study shows.
Obese children who were found to have been exposed to a strain called adenovirus 36 weighed about 35 pounds more on average than obese children who tested negative, researchers said Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Children, whether obese or not, who tested positive were 52 pounds heavier on average than those showing no evidence of the virus, according to the study of 124 kids, including 67 who were obese.
While the number of obese children in the United States has tripled since 1980, the proportion of kids with the condition appears to have leveled off during the past decade, at about one in five, U.S.-sponsored researchers said in January. The latest study provides a possible link between obesity in children and a strain of adenovirus, author Jeffrey Schwimmer said.
“Our study is one example of the complexity of obesity,” Schwimmer, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said in a telephone interview on Sept. 14. “It can’t simply be reduced to eating too much and moving too little. That’s not the whole story.”
Schwimmer said more studies are needed to determine what role adenovirus 36 infections play in causing people to gain weight.
“This work is really a starting point,” he said.
While the findings are “novel,” they aren’t likely to solve the puzzle of childhood obesity, said Evan Nadler, co-director of the Children’s National Obesity Institute at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, who wasn’t involved in the research.
“I don’t think we’ll ever likely find one cause of obesity,” Nadler said in a telephone interview Thursday.