Do head colds cause obesity?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

According to researchers, adenovirus 36 causes adipose (fat) cells to multiply.

Most people would probably agree that an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise causes people to gain weight and become obese. However, while fatty foods and a lack of physical activity are linked to extra fluff around the belly, scientists from the Obetech Obesity Research Center believe that a cold virus may be causing people to gain weight, too.

The virus in question is called adenovirus 36, and it usually infects an individual’s eyes and respiratory tract – the parts of our body that let us respire (breathe), like our nose, lungs, and throat. According to Richard L. Atkinson, head of the Obetech Obesity Research Center, it also causes fat cells to multiply into larger more plentiful units, and there’s plenty of research to prove it.

For example, a study conducted last year examined 1,400 individuals. Based on the data, people who had been infected with adenovirus 36 gained a lot more fat over the next 10 years than those who had not been infected. A second study also conducted last year examined almost 500 children and determined that the virus was linked with childhood obesity. Atkinson says that adenovirus 36 “is certainly not the cause of all obesity, but it will contribute to your weight.”

He’s developed an experimental vaccine against the virus, but it won’t be years until the medicine becomes available. Atkinson explains that “once a person becomes fat, he or she is no longer infectious to others and you don’t have to worry about them,” so he advises, “…if you don’t want to get infected, the best thing to do is wash your hands frequently, don’t rub your nose, and avoid skinny people with colds.”

Featured image courtesy of mcfarlandmo on Flickr. Image of adipose tissue courtesy of BruceBlaus on Wikipedia.