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Childhood Obesity Linked to Cold Virus

A new study partially funded by the National Institutes of Health has shown an association between a certain type of cold virus and obesity in children.

Of the 50 known adenoviruses that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, one has sparked the interest of researchers.

Study Details

Known as AD-36, the virus can also infect fat cells, ultimately leading to obesity.  For the study, Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, pediatric gastroenterologist at Rady Children’s Hospital and the University of California in San Diego led a team of colleagues who studied 124 children, half of whom were obese.

After taking blood samples, the researchers looked for antibodies specific to AD-36.  Antibodies in the blood are produced by the body’s immune system to combat infection and can be specifically identified.

Of the 124 children analyzed, 19 tested positive for AD-36 antibodies, 15 of whom were obese.  Children who tested positive weighed 50 pounds more than those who tested negative.
Additionally, the team looked specifically at the obese children only and discovered that those who tested positive for the antibodies weighed 35 pounds more than obese children who tested negative.

Although the study uncovered an associative link between AD-36 and childhood obesity, researchers state that the relationship may not be causal – in fact, it is possible that obese children are more susceptible to the virus.

More Recent Childhood Obesity Research

Regardless of what came first, the AD-36 virus or childhood obesity, there has been positive research that shows the obesity trend can be reversed, and not just in general, but individually.  Additionally, there is evidence that an all out interventionist approach may not be necessary.

One major culprit contributing to the trend are sugary soft drinks; experts contend that the average adolescent drinks 235 empty calories per day.
However, of all of the health changes an adolescent can make, eliminating soft drinks is one of the easiest.  A recent Dutch study revealed that kids who gave up sugary drinks for water do not “trade-up” by eating more snacks. 

Another study by the University of Southern California showed similar results. In that particular experiment, 54 over weight, adolescent Latinos volunteered to take part in a 4 month study. 1/3 of the kids did nothing in the form of lifestyle change, 1/3 took one nutrition class per week, and then another 1/3 took the nutrition class along with a strength training class.

More than 55 percent of the kids decreased their sugar intake by 47 grams a day (and this percentage includes children who were part of the control group that was assigned nothing), or the equivalent of one can of soda. The ones who cut down on the sweet drinks had healthier blood sugar levels; many of them also consumed more fiber, which resulted in a loss of 10% visceral fat (the fat that surrounds the organs). As far as replacing the fluid that soft drinks provide, the majority of the kids tested simply drank water, not other, sugary drinks.

Finally, a third study led by Amika Singh of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam placed 1108 twelve and thirteen year olds in an 11 month program consisting of 11 classes on nutrition and physical education. A great majority of the kids cut down their soft drink consumption by 10 ounces per day.

Like the Dutch study cited above, Singh and her colleagues discovered that the kids who took part in the study didn't snack less or exercise more. But, when it comes to weight loss, baby steps lead to longer lasting results.