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Is Obesity Caused by Viral Infection

September is observed as the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Nearly 17 percent of American obese children and adolescents have 70-80 percent chance of remaining obese even in their adulthood.

Lack of exercise, poor eating habits or overeating, ethnicity, family history, family circumstances or socio-economic status and mental problems such as stress or depression are range of risk factors identified for causing this physical disorder.

It is responsible for causing more than 300,000 deaths in the United States each year. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated $100 billion is the economic cost the country bears for it. Research studies have associated a range of associated complications like type 2 diabetes, heart ailments, smoking, osteoporosis and 33 forms of cancer with this physical disorder.

But very few can imagine that this dreadful physical disorder can have its origin in early exposure to a virus. Yes, this possibility cannot be denied now. Viral obesity is quite likely to emerge as a cause for this disorder.

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge reported for the first time in August 2007 that early exposure to some viruses can cause obesity. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), results of their findings on childhood obesity research were presented at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Knowledge Gained from the Previous Childhood Obesity Research:

In a laboratory experiment, the research team discovered adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) (one among the 50 types of this virus) generally associated with causing respiratory and eye infections in humans to be the culprit. It was found to convert stem cells of fat tissues into fat cells. Exposure to this virus was found in 30 percent of obese people and in 11 percent of lean people no traces of it were found.

As part of the study, 50 percent of adult stem cells from fatty tissue were exposed to Ad-36 virus. The rest were kept in tact for comparison. After a weeks time, the virus exposed stem cells were converted into fat cells. A gene called as E4Orfl was also a part of the discoveries made by this team. The gene was associated with Ad-36 virus and was believed to be behind the virus’s ability to accumulate fat in the affected people.

The exact mechanism of how the virus caused obesity, why it affects only a certain group of individuals, the period of existence of this virus in the affected people, the duration of its effects on them after it leaves the body were some handful of questions left unanswered by the study. However, it was the first of its kind to associate a virus with obesity in humans.

What Latest Childhood Obesity Research Study Has Revealed?

Researchers from University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have also arrived at the same conclusion that early exposure to certain strains of adenovirus increases the chances of childhood obesity. Results of their study were published in the September 2010 online edition of the journal Pediatrics.

124 children belonging to the age 8-18 years were part of the study and presence of this virus in their body was tested. The children who were found to be AD36-positive weighed nearly 50 pounds more and thus were obese. In this way, the link between the virus exposure and obesity was cemented further.

The present study learnt that immature fat cells are prompted by this virus to grow more quickly and multiply abnormally in the affected people. The answered questions of the earlier research still remain unanswered.

This does not stop the researchers from developing a treatment option for obesity by targeting Ad-36 virus and its gene E4Orfl in the coming days.

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