Cafe Society

It's not butter sticks that lead to obesity; it's the "fat bug"

Apparently, it's not the triple-cream Brie, the foie gras or chicken liver pâté, or the supersize burger, milkshake and xx-large boat of fries that's contributing to our nation's obesity. Nope. According to new research, the muffin that droops over your waistline is caused by the "fat bug," which, discovered scientists at the University of California, San Diego, is similar to the common cold virus.

No, seriously. The researchers, in their infinite wisdom, claim that obesity -- which they're calling "infectobesity" -- is transferred from one body to the next, just like an infection. Or lice (which, for the record, is running rampant in Denver's public schools). The guilty culprit responsible for your sagging butt, beer belly and thick thighs, claim scientists, is a strain of adenovirus known to infect us mere mortals -- though only one, adenovirus 36, has been actually linked to human obesity.

The results of the study, first published last week in Pediatrics, a U.S. journal, and later dissected in the (UK) Independent, showed that in tests on 124 kids and young adults ages eight to eighteen, the virus was lurking in more than 20 percent of those who were labeled obese, compared with fewer than 6 percent of the rest. Four out of five kids carrying adenovirus 36 were obese and weighed approximately fifty pounds more than those who weren't infected.

"This amount of extra weight is a major concern at any age, but is especially so for a child.... This work helps point out that body weight is more complicated than it's made out to be. And it is time that we move away from assigning blame in favor of developing a level of understanding that will better support efforts at both prevention and treatment," said Jeffrey Schwimmer, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics, who led the study. "These data add credence to the concept that an infection can be a cause or contributor to obesity."

The findings, which go on to purport that one in five fat people also showed traits of adenovirous infections and were on average nearly thirty pounds weightier than people who had never been infected, has its cynics (including me), but Nikhil Dhurandhar, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana (a state, by the way, that has the eighth-highest rate of adult obesity and seventh-highest rate of overweight and obese youths ages ten through seventeen), insists that the evidence is crystal clear -- clear as a map of America, in fact: Obesity in this country "has spread like a forest fire from the East Coast to the West over the last twenty years," he says.

That's true, but to claim that obesity is caused by an infection has got to be an early (or late) April Fool's prank -- or, at the very least, a fictitious concoction that will, of course, lead to a future vaccine injected with lard.