Chubby Virus

You all might remember this story from a few years ago:

Contagious Obesity? Identifying The Human Adenoviruses That May Make Us Fat

This is one of the papers that article was based on:

Human adenovirus-36 is associated with increased body weight and paradoxical reduction of serum lipids

Long story short, an adenovirus (virus Ive written about previously) was associated with obesity. That is, people with high BMIs were more likely to have antibodies to Adenovirus-36 than people with normal BMIs, 30%:11%.

Since 2005/2006, scientists have tried to flush out the how/whys behind Ad36–>Obesity, with quite a bit of success:

Common Virus May Contribute To Obesity In Some People

Viral Infections May Be Linked To Obesity

However, all of these studies were done in animals and tissue culture. Subsequent studies in humans, trying to recapitulate that 30%:11% havent been popping up yet.

Until very recently :-/

Lack of Evidence for the Role of Human Adenovirus-36 in Obesity in a European Cohort— They looked for Ad36 antibodies (~500 people) and Ad36 DNA in visceral fat (~30 people). 3.9% seroprevalence in non-obese, 5.7% in obese. Couldnt find any Ad36 DNA in fat from ‘severely obese’ individuals.

I would say this might just be evidence that Europeans come from a stronger stock than us Americans, but the US military has also found no correlation:

Adenovirus 36 seropositivity is strongly associated with race and gender, but not obesity, among US military personnel— Looked for Ad36 antibodies in ~300 military personnel. 38.8% of the normal controls were Ad36 positive, 34.3% in obese individuals.

Hmm. So weve got a lot more Ad36 in the US than Europe, and while it is totally possible for Ad36 to be ‘playing a role’ the obesity epidemic (causing obesity in some people who would normally be ‘normal’), its not The Cause.

So… just keep this in mind the next time you are getting your scientific news from Marie Claire


  1. #1 zer0
    April 12, 2010

    BMI is the biggest piece of trash measure ever. If you have any muscle mass at all, you’re overweight or obese.

  2. #2 Prometheus
    April 12, 2010

    Uh oh. A parting link to an article with an objectified left love handle and butt cheek.

    Prepare for an extended humorless interblog tsk tsk from the usual suspects.

  3. #3 R2
    April 12, 2010

    I don’t think Americans necessarily have more adenovirus seropositivity than Europeans. The American study was done in a military population, who are more likely to be crowded and thus have a higher prevalence. So, both studies can’t be compared.

    Also, @zer0:

  4. #4 techskeptic
    April 12, 2010

    ” and while it is totally possible for Ad36 to be ‘playing a role’ the obesity epidemic..”

    I dont get it. I dont see how it can be anything other than calories in vs calories burned, unless is it water retention.

    Could the virus make people more tired and less prone to exercise? Is it thought that this virus changes your resting metabolism rate? Is that what you mean by possibly playing a role?

  5. #5 cynical1
    April 12, 2010

    Since this virus is also an enterovirus, the easiest way to explain the epidemiology is basically that obese people eat more hence being more likely to be exposed. ‘Nuff said.

  6. #6 Scientist
    April 13, 2010

    I am the scientist who reported the original paper on Ad-36 and obesity. The two papers you quote have problems (see below). You did not quote four papers that supported the original findings: (1 Na et al, IJO, a 29% prevalence in obese Korean kids, 14% in lean; (2 and (3 Trovato et al, IJO and Liver Int, two different papers in two populations that reported a >40% prevalence in Italian adults; and (4 Atkinson et al, Int J Ped Obesity, 30% prevalence in obese Korean kids. Two other papers were presented in abstract form at the Obesity Society in Washington, Oct 09 that showed same thing (MacAllister et al and Gabbert et al). The problems in the papers you quote – the Dutch paper found only 5% prevalence of Ad-36. But they did not report they sent samples to me for QA and we found 36% (letter to Editor of Obesity pending on this). The San Diego military paper – military personnel get kicked out of military if fat. Hopelessly confounds association with obesity. Prevalence was ~35%. So…, the bulk of the evidence supports a role of Ad-36 in obesity, particularly in kids. Admittedly, much still to learn.

  7. #7 ERV
    April 13, 2010

    Hey, thanks for the comment!

    There are always ‘further avenues of research’! Im not suggesting we shut this story down at all– I mean there are the obvious questions to answer, like with that Korean study, why those 14% non-obese kids arent effected by the virus, or why those other 71% of kids were obese with no virus šŸ™‚

    I totally agree that this virus could play a part in obesity in some people, but not that Ad36 is The Cause of the obesity problems were are having.

  8. #8 Prometheus
    April 13, 2010

    #7 ERV

    “….but not that Ad36 is The Cause of the obesity problems were are having.”

    Does so! I read it.

    I am now going to have a painless hypno-birth in my new Lindsay Lohan leggings.

    I love science journalists.

  9. #9 eddie
    April 14, 2010

    Nobody found anything, but they sent their samples to me for QA and I found tons of morgellons-causing CFS virusses.

  10. #10 William Wallace
    April 19, 2010

    Not sure what the problem is here. Many breakthroughs are the result of researchers looking in unexpected places, places that other scientists think are a waste of time. Nobody ever said that you will always find something where most aren’t looking, though.

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