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Obesity Contagious? 840

An anonymous reader writes "University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have found that certain human viruses may cause obesity, and by extension make being severely overweight a contagious condition. 'It makes people feel more comfortable to think that obesity stems from lack of control,' the lead researcher says. 'It's a big mental leap to think you can catch obesity.' But other diseases once chalked up to environmental factors, like stomach ulcers, are now known to stem from infectious agents."
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Obesity Contagious?

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:07PM (#14600849) Journal
    "Lois, everyone has their sanctuary. The Catholics have churches, fat people have Wisconsin, and I have the Pawtucket Brewery."
    - Peter in Wasted Talent

    Beer and cheese must not fall under the Atkins diet ... or maybe they do but you're not supposed to consume them by the metric tonne? Having never tried said tomfoolery, I'm not sure how it works.

    Looks like those 'sconnies found an excuse ... remember, it's not that you're inactive or eat a lot. Thanks to technology, there are pills to cure obesity--3 AM TV told me so.
    • by Rakshasa Taisab ( 244699 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:20PM (#14600997) Homepage
      I'm still waiting for the particle physicists to confirm the existence of the subatomic particle that causes procrastination. I was going to suggest a funny name for it, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:24PM (#14601043)
      Yes, we will have hordes of overweight people going "See, told you so! I'm sick!"

      What they will conveniently forget is convervation of energy: The only way someone can gain weight is by eating too much, compared to how much energy their bodies spend on moving and keeping you alive. End of discussion.

      No matter which disease one may have, you will not catch 25 pounds from taking a stroll through the mall or, say, through breathing thin air. If a disease lowers the energy requirements of the body, the cure is to eat proportionally less.

      TFA isn't clear on this, but I wonder precisely what is suggested being the cause of obesity in 'infected' individuals. Are they saying people simply become unable to control the urge to eat uncontrolled amounts of unhealthy foods?

      So how do you catch 'soccer moms', no bikes as kids, McD dinners and no exercise in school?

      Also strange is the fact that ulcers were commonplace all over the world, due to often being an infectious disease. Yet I wonder why the Europeans haven't 'caught' obesity on the US level yet? It is not like we haven't been mingling with them for, say, a few hundred years.

      • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:42PM (#14601233)
        What they will conveniently forget is convervation of energy: The only way someone can gain weight is by eating too much, compared to how much energy their bodies spend on moving and keeping you alive. End of discussion.
        If a disease lowers the energy requirements of the body, the cure is to eat proportionally less.

        For some people "too much" food might be just enough to nourish them. It's not widely reported, but lots of dieting fat people die and/or suffer severe health problems from malnutrition every year. Still fat, yet starved of required nutrients.

        We've tried bullying fat people to "quit eating so much and go for a walk" for decades now. Results have not been stellar. Maybe we ought to try something else. Maybe it might be worth a shot to afford them the dignity of any other human beings, and find ways to help them get thinner.

        It's not like fat people want to be fat. You can't even make the case that the pleasures of eating and relaxation (or avoiding the discomfort of working out and going hungry) are more important to them than their health and appearance. There are people who are suicidal over their weight, and willing to endure painful, dangerous, ill-advised medical procedures to correct it.

        Something is clearly wrong with these people, whether it's psychological or physiological. Instead of mockingly call them out for being less wonderful than you (when, for all you know, you would fair far worse if cursed with their metabolism), how about we try to find a solution.

        In spite of how much the results of studies like this might displease the "personal responsibility uber alles" crowd, I'm glad studies like this are being done. If there really does turn out to be a viral cause, discovery of it is cause for celebration.

        Science before dogma.
        • by Alex P Keaton in da ( 882660 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:49PM (#14601310) Homepage
          Hmm- I think that we focus too much on weight and not enough on health. If someone is rail thin because they crash diet and are malnourished, that is not healthy...
          But eating fresh non processed foods and getting daily exercise is healthy for anyone.
          Obesity in the US is becoming a public health emergency. Did you see the 6 day series in the New York Times about Type II diabetes? It showed some people who couldn't stop eating junk food, even though it would mean they would lose a foot or go blind...
        • by n9uxu8 ( 729360 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:17PM (#14601627) Homepage
          Uhmmm...not to be all PC or anything, but I AM fat and there is nothing wrong with me. I eat a bit too much and tend to pray at the alter of convenience a bit too often. It's not a virus, it's nobody's fault but my own, and it's none of your @$*! business (societally-speaking, please don't feel that that is directed at you)!

          I put more miles on a bicyle in a month than I'm betting most of you do in a year, I work out regularly and have developed a liking for yoga. Still fat, but I start a long-term diet program on Monday (after the trip out to see Kevin Smith talk in Indy) which will likely help take off unwanted pounds.

          My point? We're all individuals. Some folks are fat; some are thin. Some folks want to blame someone/thing else for lifes woes; some don't. Some folks are fat for medical conditions beyond their control; some folks are fat because chicken wings is tasty. Whatever...it's individual and statements such as "Something is clearly wrong with these people" piss me off.

          • Whatever...it's individual and statements such as "Something is clearly wrong with these people" piss me off.

            Relax. You said yourself that you are healthy and happy with your current weight, so you are clearly not in the group of which I was speaking (those who are dangerously obese in spite of a continuing and ongoing struggle not to be.)
        • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:27PM (#14601727)
          It's not widely reported, but lots of dieting fat people die and/or suffer severe health problems from malnutrition every year. Still fat, yet starved of required nutrients.

          Vitamin pills?

          We've tried bullying fat people to "quit eating so much and go for a walk" for decades now

          Funny, that's how I lost over 100 pounds. (Five pounds a month for 20 months in a row.)

          It works. Mostly the part about eating less. I got the idea when I realized that the Ethiopians who died in that famine didn't look so thin because they got too much exercise.
        • Overweight people, dieting or not, are often malnourished *due to eating an unbalanced diet*. Most weight-loss diets unnaturally restrict some food group; how is anyone supposed to have a balanced intake if they're not permitted to eat, frex, anything containing fat? When you're deficient in some key nutrient, it makes you hungry, which kinda defeats the purpose. Fat isn't just a source of calories, it also supplies some key nutrients; how can a fat-free diet be 100% balanced?

          [puts on pro dog breeder hat] D
      • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:00PM (#14601442)
        "What they will conveniently forget is convervation of energy: The only way someone can gain weight is by eating too much... End of discussion".

        Unless you are an expert on human metabolism, you cannot possibly make such an assertion. And if you were, you wouldn't.

        What you overlook is that human beings are animals, and hence complex biochemical factories, not simple heat engines. If you know how much petrol a car engine of a given capacity burns in a given time, you know how much energy it produces, right? (Even this is only broadly true). But animals are very inefficient converters of energy. I forget how much of the energy we use gets "wasted" as heat, but it's a large fraction. (Just as well, or we'd die of hypothermia). Other energy goes into running various chemical reactions, not all of which are necessarily indispensable or even useful.

        As soon as you think about if for a few seconds, it's clear that the body has a lot of discretion in just how it uses the 200 calories you get from, say, eating a bun. These viruses could jam the "make fat" control hard over against the end stop.

        Maybe you think it is fine for one person to eat 2900 calories a day, do little exercise, and stay thin; while another person eats 2000 calories, walks six miles and gains weight. But how is the second person going to control their weight in the long run? The only practical way we have of controlling calorie intake is our appetite. Have you ever tried measuring your exact calorie intake while eating a normal diet? It's far from easy. Moreover, how are people to know how much they should be eating, if it's 2000 for one person and 3000 for someone else of similar size, shape, and exercise habits? We can't all become dietary scientists, walking about with computers and clipboards, weighing every bite of food we eat.
    • by dthrall ( 894750 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:59PM (#14601432)
      If you had read the article instead of simply scrambling to get the first post filled with nothing but your pre-conceptions and derogatory generalization of the people who live in one particular state, you would have noticed that the study made no attempt to use this as an excuse, but rather proposed that this may be a contributing factor. From TFA:
      "The nearly simultaneous increase in the prevalence of obesity in most countries of the world is difficult to explain by changes in food intake and exercise alone, and suggest that adenoviruses could have contributed," the study said. "The role of adenoviruses in the worldwide epidemic of obesity is a critical question that demands additional research."
      And just to avoid any more of your preconceptions, I am:
      • sitting in Madison right now
      • not overweight at all
      • waiting for intelligent input on the topic
    • Atkins (as in the published book) is mostly green leafy vegetables plus lean meats as part of a multi-stage plan toward maintaining weight as a life goal. The street folklore version of Atkins seems to be "eat lots of bacon and get skinny".

      Which one are you discussing?


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:09PM (#14600871)
    clear cut and easy to remember: "Burger King", "McDonalds", etc.
    • by cocoamix ( 560647 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:28PM (#14601079)
      Ah, the dreaded Fat Cow Disease.
    • by dstewart ( 853530 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:18PM (#14601630)
      It's odd that the idea that a virus can contribute to, or even be a causation of obesity is so poorly received here. Bear in mind that these are experiments on test animals on a controlled diet, not some survey of McDonalds patrons.

      Perhaps because the linked article was a blog...

      Study on rhesus monkeys and marmosets. [nutrition.org]

      "In study 1, we observed spontaneously occurring Ad-36 antibodies in 15 male rhesus monkeys, and a significant longitudinal association of positive antibody status with weight gain and plasma cholesterol lowering during the 18 mo after viral antibody appearance. In study 2, which was a randomized controlled experiment, three male marmosets inoculated with Ad-36 had a threefold body weight gain, a greater fat gain and lower serum cholesterol relative to baseline (P 0.05) than three uninfected controls at 28 wk postinoculation. These studies illustrate that the adiposity-promoting effect of Ad-36 occurs in two nonhuman primate species and demonstrates the usefulness of nonhuman primates for further evaluation of Ad-36-induced adiposity."

  • All the food that I eat seems to take weeks to travel through my intestines now, since my last infection by what was probably some rotavirus. I hope I didn't catch it from some of the rich gene-tech companies I am travelling by.
    • Doesnt this just encourage us to stay away from fat people? If word gets out of the geek community, then people would stay away from fat people because they dont want to get fat, making fat people feel lonely, depressed, and suicidal.

      this would increase the amount of discrimination cases against obese people dramatically :-s
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:11PM (#14600883)
    I'm not fat, I'm diseased.
  • by tcd004 ( 134130 ) * on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:11PM (#14600886) Homepage
    Here's an interesting report from FP Magazine on obesity as a global epidemic. [foreignpolicy.com] Interesting to note that obesity seems to occur independent of the financial factors that you would assume cause obesity. Report is a PDF download. tcd004
    • by kcbrown ( 7426 ) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:27PM (#14601070)
      Well duh...

      Look, the cause of obesity is really very simple: the human body (and its ancestors) evolved in environments in which food was scarce, and during that time mechanisms came into being which helped to deal with that scarcity. As a result, it has built-in mechanisms to ensure that there will be sufficient energy store for the body to use for all but the most drastic of food shortages. These mechanisms include the fat store, the tendency for fat to accumulate much more easily than it's used, and an appetite control mechanism that encourages overeating (since who knows when the next meal will become available?).

      Now take the human body and put it into an environment where all the food one could ever want is easily available for the taking (all it requires is a small amount of money). What do you expect will happen?

      Well, duh...the body will behave as it always has: under the assumption that while food might be plentiful now, it's not likely to be plentiful for long, so better stock up now while it can.

      And thus, obesity.

      And the reason obesity is so difficult to deal with, and why sustained weight loss has such a lousy track record (95%+ failure rate), is simple: to fight obesity, you have to fight your own body's instinctive drive to "save up for a rainy day".

      • by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:40PM (#14601213) Homepage Journal
        Also, we used to run after our food and throw spears at it before we could eat. Or even walk a long ways to find enough berries to nibble on. Now, we just hop in our cars and drive to the grocery store. Gobs of food, AND little or no physical exertion to get it. That's not what our bodies were designed for.
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:08PM (#14601539) Homepage
          Your theory is inconsistent with the reality of hunter gatherer life (namely Bushmen). The problem is simply the abundance of food. Although farmers certainly work hard. They work much harder then their more tribal counterparts.

                        Bushmen do get to walk around a bit more. They're more akin to modern people that would have to walk to the corner grocery on a daily basis. Bushmen still tend to setup camp where the food is. They're not going to waste calories going too and fro when they can just move their hovels over to the next grove or whatnot.
        • Also, we used to run after our food and throw spears at it before we could eat.

          I had to chase down a hot dog vendor today and throw spears at him before he'd stop to sell me a Chicago dog with everything and an icy cold Coca-Cola. Does that count?
          • by kraada ( 300650 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @06:58PM (#14602642)
            and an icy cold Coca-Cola

            I'm surprised that after reading all the comments nobody has said anything about soda. Calories from soda are huge. A 2L bottle of soda runs about 2000 calories. If you have your main liquid consumption from soda you're probably drinking about 2 of these a week.

            Switch over to water (0 calories), and you'll drop 4000 calories/week out of your diet instantly. That's almost 600 calories a day. It will make a difference. Get a Brita if you can't stand the taste of tap water, buy bottled water if you must spend money on your beverages.

            But don't complain to me about being fat and then go grab the Big Gulp of Coke. You won't get any sympathy here.
      • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:10PM (#14601558)
        Please don't forget one other major factor -

        Food used to be fairly simple. Thousands of years of grains/meats/herbs combined with moderately low heat on an individual basis. Modern food processing (for those of us that eat in such countries) involves food processes, chemicals, and techniques that we certainly did not evolve for. High fructose corn syrup in almost everything (hamburger buns? WTF?), foods created by superheating and injecting gases, and foods assembled in a laboratory are definately a curve ball.

        I doubt anyone would drink soda if they actually had to form it from its core components. I can handle cooking steak, pastries, etc. I know how to grow/hunt the ingredients for most foods. Where does one hunt the wild aspartame? How do you go about making msg? If you had to do it in your kitchen, would you even bother?

        Also, my pet theory is that humans are designed to be social eaters (sharing the kill, the harvest, etc). Company makes foods better. Ever smell a McDonald's burger that smells as good as a backyard barbecue one? Now, however, a lot of people wolf down their food by themselves in the car, or while working. They don't stop to pay attention to it, and they also frequently ingest several hundred calories of soda while eating.

        Just my two bits.
        • MSG (Score:4, Informative)

          by Mr2001 ( 90979 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:42PM (#14604207) Homepage Journal
          How do you go about making msg? If you had to do it in your kitchen, would you even bother?

          It's not that hard.. glutamate is naturally present in many foods such as parmesan cheese, asparagus, peas, and tomatoes, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) is simply a form of glutamate that's easy to package and cook with. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], MSG was first discovered in crystals left behind after evaporating kombu broth, which is a common Japanese soup stock [seaweed.net] made by heating seaweed in water. Making MSG in your own kitchen is probably easier than making baking soda, sugar, table salt, and many other basic ingredients.
  • Funny thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by g8oz ( 144003 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:11PM (#14600896)
    Funny how this virus is so widespread in the United States.

    I'm sure it has nothing to do with the availability of junk food and the national automobile culture.
    • Re:Funny thing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bullsbarry ( 862452 )
      When you live a 45 minute drive from where you work because it's the closest place you can afford housing, walking or riding a bike to work is not an option.
      • Re:Funny thing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:53PM (#14601357)
        Hence the "automobile culture" remark made by the other guy.

        When I was living in Europe, specifically Germany, people viewed someplace that took half-an-hour away as pretty long and a city 2 hours away as a "trip". It was the norm to be able to work/bike to the local grocery store 5-15 minutes away (for that mode of transport) and get what you need. For work, lots of people took the train, which also required walking.

        Holland is even greater in bike usage.

        Part of the reason that Europe has everything close together is that stores, restaurants, etcetera can be comfortably intermingled amoung the neighborhoods. The only thing I saw zoned "away" from other things was industrial.

        In America, rural zoning tends to be much more isolationist - suburbs are islands to themselves - without a store in sight. It's quite depressing actually. It also leads to the "not being able to walk or bike anywhere" syndrome.
        • Re:Funny thing (Score:5, Interesting)

          by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:21PM (#14601658) Journal
          Don't forget that most of Europe's city planning was complete before the advent of the automobile. Older US cities tend to follow the European path more often that not (New York, Philly, Boston, Chicago). Generally speaking, the newer the city, the more likely lots of driving will be required. This is especially true the further west you go (Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles...San Francisco is aberrantly more like east coast cities, but probably because it was the west coast's first real city in the mid-19th century).
        • Re:Funny thing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Average_Joe_Sixpack ( 534373 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:35PM (#14601818)
          In America, rural zoning tends to be much more isolationist - suburbs are islands to themselves - without a store in sight. It's quite depressing actually.

          ... and also quite dangerous. The entire economy and even basic survival hinges on those service station pumps never running dry. I don't see how the US could survive another 70s style oil embargo given the incredible suburban expansion of the last 25 years.
    • Re:Funny thing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TClevenger ( 252206 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:38PM (#14601200)
      We visited London last October (my first trip out of the US.) I was amazed that you could go to any grocery store or drugstore, and many roadside stands, and get an excellent sandwich (not the all-bread-and-lettuce Subway variety, but a REAL sandwich), a bag of chips and a half liter of diet soda for less than the cost of a fast food meal. Also, since you can take the Tube practically anywhere, there's more walking and less driving involved for a good portion of the populace. (We never felt the need for a car the whole trip.)

      Contrast that with America, where many technology parks and shopping centers don't even have proper sidewalks, and where the fastest, cheapest food you can get is at McDonalds, and it's no wonder Americans are fat.

      • Re:Funny thing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dlZ ( 798734 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:21PM (#14601662) Journal
        I've been wanting to visit Europe for some time now, just haven't had the chance just yet. I do make the trip down to NYC pretty often, though. I park my car in Jersey City, and don't touch it again till I leave (we stay are a relative's flat there.) Take the train into the city, and just walk or take the subway to get places. I love it. Where I live, I have to drive to get anywhere and there is no real public transportation. I live in a suburb of Syracuse, NY (about 5 minute drive from the main part of the city.) It's not like a live in a little town or village.

        Where I live I feel like I'm in the minority of people at a healthy weight. In NYC, I'm the norm. But then, there are many restuarants in the city with healthy food that tastes good (we ate at an amazing vegan place this weekend, Angelica Kitchen. It's on 12th St between 1st and 2nd Ave. Worth the wait if there is one!)
      • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @06:13PM (#14602245) Homepage
        Indeed, we should take a cue from the British. They've cleverly designed their food so as to discourage its consumption.
  • by Mr.Ziggy ( 536666 ) <storm2120@yahooP ... minus physicist> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:12PM (#14600900)
    If I fully cook it, can I eat fat people without getting fat?
  • I live in Wisconsin and that virus must be all over the place judging from the amount of obesity here! Flamebait me if you will, but it's pretty bad here!

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • by EVil Lawyer ( 947367 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:14PM (#14600927)
    Check out Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion [amazon.com].

    There are some staggering data in there regarding the extent to which humans mimic the behavior of similar others. For example, there are statistically significant increases in the number of teenage-couples killed in car accidents among those teenage-couples who recently heard about accidents where teenage couples were killed. The increase is not observed in teenage-couples who didn't hear about the recent accidents, and is not observed among singleton teenagers or older couples who have been exposed to the news. These results have been repeated with a wide range of demographic groups, on a wide range of phenomena, and have been found to be consistent and strong. Hmm, notice a rash of mine accidents recently? Yes, I'm sure it's media focus-bias to some extent...

    I really urge you to check that book out if you're interested in the instinct-level mental processes that control us without our being aware of them, or if you want to be..ah...evil?

    • by hazem ( 472289 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:45PM (#14601261) Journal
      While I definitely believe that in humans, the power of suggestion and the placebo effect are quite powerful.

      That's why, though, that we do double-blind studies, and tests on animals.

      I doubt the animals in the study were susceptible to suggestion - yet the ones with one of the virii did indeed become more obese.
    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:06PM (#14601519)
      My wife and I put our son into daycare at 3 months. After maybe two months, we changed his formula intake -- 2, 8oz bottles instead of 3 4-oz bottles to try to shift his feeding into the daytime and get him off a nighttime bottle.

      We got immediate "feedback" from the staff about "cutting" his intake. I had to explain to them that it was actually a net increase for daytime feeding (16 vs. 12 oz) and his overall intake was actually up by 4 oz. They politely disagreed and we said we'd change it back if problems arose. After a week it was a non-issue.

      After thinking about it, I realized what the real issue was -- the staff liked to feed him more frequently and we believed they were actually using the feeding as a way to soothe him; the feeding times for the bottles varied quite a bit. By cutting him to two bottles a day, they were "losing" a soothing option.

      It was then that I started thinking about the staff; all of them would qualify as overweight, three of them would probably qualify as obese and one of them probably is pushing the morbidly obese standard.

      I started wondering if the childhood obesity phenomenon couldn't partly be traced to daycare; at an early age, if given the opportunity, the staff will use food the way they probably use it themselves -- as a way to soothe and manage anxiety.

      I'm probably stretching this a lot, but it doesn't seem entirely unrealistic. Kids in increasingly large numbers since the 1970s have been put into daycares, and they've been subjected to food as a behavior modifier -- soothing babies, calming toddlers, and so on. The fact that daycare providers are, by and large, at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder probably also means that the kids are being subjected to the caregivers own poor habits as well.

      I know there are other influences (TV, advertising, parental disregard, etc), but I do wonder if bad food choices in daycare doesn't lay the groundwork for a fairly deep-seated set of food/emotion connections that play out as the child gets older and has more opportunity to make their own food choices.
  • Virus or no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:15PM (#14600935)
    Virus or no, the truth remains that if you eat less than your daily caloric requirement, you will lose weight. Being unable to control your intake of food DOES indicate a certain lack of control. It's hard to do -- I know this personally. But even if I knew I was infected with a virus I would still lay the responsibility squarely on my own shoulders.

    Despite my attempts to keep this comment civil, I'm sure some will take offense...

  • Just How Often? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by darkonc ( 47285 ) <stephen_samuel@bcgr e e n . com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:15PM (#14600942) Homepage Journal
    The researchers are haveing a hard time finding people who are infected with the 'obese' viruse ad-37, so I don't think it's all to common of an issue. (although they do mention that 'a significant' number of obese people are infected with ad-36, they don't mention what proportion that 'significant' number is).

    Does anybody have pointers to numbers for the other two viruses?

    Viruses aren't the only medical condition that can cause obesity, by the way. Various hormonal problems (thyroid comes to mind) can cause obesity as well. Even so, I'm expecting that they'll still find tha more than half of North American obesity is not environment related (other than an environment with an abundance of food).

  • by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) * <jhummel@@@johnhummel...net> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:18PM (#14600962) Homepage
    There are, as with all things, multiple factors:

    1. Genetics
    2. Environment
    3. Disease

    Someone who is prone to ulcers (genetics) and works as a stock trader on the floor of Wall Street and doesn't eat well/doesn't exercise (environment) and catches the right germ (disease) is more likely to come down with an ulcer than the sheep herder in Wyoming who's only worry is someone using the word "brokeback" to them.

    The same thing could be here. I know people who have struggled with their weight - they exercise, they try to eat well, and yet the pounds don't come off. Perhaps, like ulcers, there can be a simple protein check before dieting and exercise of "OK - looks like you have the virus. Let's clear that up while we change your eating and exercise habits", which will give many people hope before they have to resort to surgery.

    Hopefully it won't just be an excuse for the lazy, like the Wall Street trader who'd rather take a pill for the ulcer rather than taking time out to go relax with their family and loved ones.

    Now, with that said, I'm heading out and getting a whopper ;).
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:18PM (#14600969)
    While some external influence (viral) might worsen matters by wretchedly increasing fat uptake at the cellular level in some people, I don't think it's any mystery why most of us reading this right now have a couple of pounds we'd like to get rid of.

    Sure, wash your hands and reduce your random virus exposure. But get up and move around a little without the bag of chips. That's what I say. Also, will someone come and help me out of this chair?
  • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:24PM (#14601035) Homepage Journal
    ...I caught it from my potato chips.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:24PM (#14601040) Homepage Journal
    There are actual biological disorders known to cause obesity, so it is entirely possible that some fraction of those may be caused by a contageous pathogen. That is not impossible. Improbable, as the law of conservation of energy prohibits energy being created out of nothing, but not impossible.

    The two most common causes of obesity are compulsive overeating (which is an actual addition and can often only be effectively treated as such), and gratuitous overeating (where the person is just a slob). The latter is rarer than you might think, as being a slob is not much of a survival trait. Addictions, however, are often derived from survival traits. Severely deranged ones, but survival traits nonetheless.

    Now, addictive behaviours can appear to be contageous, as extreme dysfunctions tend to create extreme stress in others, which can in turn cause those others to become dysfunctional themselves. (We're talking fairly extreme cases, here.) As such, any research that theorises pathogens must first eliminate acutely dysfunctional groups. Otherwise, you're going to end up chasing shadows.

    Eliminating acutely dysfunctional researchers who are paid by corporate sponsors to achieve pre-defined results would also be a good idea, but that would eliminate 95% of all researchers, which could cause problems down the road.

  • by ewg ( 158266 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:24PM (#14601041)
    Any new angle on the issue is helpful. If there's a virus hindering people in their efforts to lose weight, then by all means identify and fight it.
  • infectious (Score:3, Funny)

    by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:27PM (#14601073)
    Everyone knows that obesity is infectious. It's actually an STD! Men are carriers and women become infected. While there are various treatments which are legal, once infected, it usually takes some 10-12 months for women to fully recover from the effects of the disease. Unfortunitally, most women which are afflicted with this wind up some type of horrible growth that cohabitates and grows at cancerous rates, for some 18-25 years.

    It seems the poor and uneducated are most often afflicted. Regardless of your social standing, please do not assume that you are safe! Most doctors agree that the use of a condom may prevent your girlfriend or wife from contracting this horrible, disfiguring, disease.
  • Spread how? (Score:3, Funny)

    by misleb ( 129952 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:27PM (#14601077)
    Let me guess. The virus spreads through biting.

  • by andy314159pi ( 787550 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:29PM (#14601102) Journal
    If you read just the blurb posted here, you'll see that the researchers say "it is easier to think of obesity as having something to do with willpower"[paraphrasing.] Most of the comments on this story seem to reflect this, and are just what the researchers predicted you'd say.
    The point is the idea that obesity might not be something that you control really is frightening to us.
  • by Churla ( 936633 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:30PM (#14601111)
    I don't think their study is trying to say 'Cure this virus and cure obesity'. It seems more to point towards reasons that some people invariably gain more weight eating the same foods as others. There are factors of caloric absorbtion, and also factors of metabolisms being capable of breaking down and using fat. Many metabolic processes can easily be affected by contagens in the system.

    What is to say that some viruses might also be affecting this?

    If some treatment can just help a person who has struggled against weight their whole life have a slightly easier struggle without harming their body in a more severe way then more power to them.

  • by DrRobert ( 179090 ) * <rgbuice@macCOUGAR.com minus cat> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:32PM (#14601138) Homepage
    ...swimmng, biking, I guess the virus just can't catch up with you. Or maybe the increased oxygen levels kill it, or something in all those vegatables. Oh, wait.. this is slashdot... I better stop before someone takes this comment seriously.
  • Ha! (Score:3, Funny)

    by faqmaster ( 172770 ) <jones.tm@ g m a i l . com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:33PM (#14601153) Homepage Journal
    The University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who did the study is named Professor Creosote.
  • by rubberbando ( 784342 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @04:45PM (#14601256)
    <conspiracy theory>

    They're fattening up their cattle a.k.a. us!

    I hear "Armageddon" means "Great Feast" in Gray. ;)

    Those skinny little bastards must be hungry! Look at 'em!

    </conspiracy theory>
  • by NiteShaed ( 315799 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @05:06PM (#14601514)
    Okay, so there are lots and lots of comments here that boil down to "put the cheeseburger down!", but in a stunning reversal, I actually RTFA. True, people should try to eat well, and on the whole I agree that most people should spend a little more time walking (or biking, or jogging, or whatever) and a little less time in front of the television. That being said, the article raises some interesting possibilities. If viral activity could be a cause of weight-gain, I'd rather know about it than simply insist that the guy who's oozing out of the sides of his seat down the aisle from me has no self-control.

    There was a time when illness was "obviously" the result of evil spirits playing havoc on people who were not devout enough. I'll bet at some point there were people standing around the village square commenting on how "if that fool had just spent a little more time praying than [insert sinful activity here], he obviously wouldn't be lying on the ground hacking up a lung and burning up from fever". Just because this line of research goes against what we believe to be common-knowledge isn't really a reason to jump all over it, we can be wrong.

    So, no, it's clearly not an excuse to give up eating well or exercising, but I'm not going to just say there's nothing to this until there's been a bit more study.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...