The United States is in the middle of an epidemic, and this one has nothing to do with birds or swine. Childhood obesity rates, which have tripled in the past 30 years, are raising alarms among experts. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that among children 6 to 11 years old, obesity rates are as high as 19.6 percent. Ror kids 12 to 19, rates hover around  18.01 percent.

Now, it looks like the common cold virus may be partially to blame. As reports, University of California San Diego researchers have found that children exposed to adenovirus virus 36 (AD36), the common source of colds and eye infections, are significantly more likely to be obese. In fact, their weight gain can be as much as 50 pounds. Obese children are much more likely to become obese adults, putting themselves at risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and more.

Experts are troubled by the findings. Some urge caution in considering the results. Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer is an associate professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego and the senior author on the study. As he told, “This shows that body weight regulation and the development of obesity are very complicated issues. It’s not simply a case that some children eat too much and others don’t. There are children who eat all the wrong things in all the wrong quantities who are not obese.” 

Animals that have been infected with the adenovirus 36 have been shown to store more fat on their bodies. Also, there is evidence that the adenovirus may “rewire” fat cells in obese bodies. The virus may change cells to store more fat and they may also alter them to make even more fat cells. Experts say that more than 20 percent of the obese children studied tested positive for the virus. If a vaccine can be developed, it could aid in the fight against childhood obesity.

Ultimately, doctors urge that parents monitor their children’s diets rather than try to get them tested for this virus. Dr. Goutham Rao is clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As he told, “even if parents found out that their children had the virus, they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.” Proper diet and exercise are still the best ways to combat obesity in children and adults.

For further reading: