Childhood Obesity and the Common Cold

Blowing Her Nose

Every now and then, something comes from out of left field. A connection between childhood obesity and the common cold? Who would have thought of it? Somebody did, and while there have been other studies tracking possible associations between obesity and viral infections, this one seems to be attracting a lot of attention.

The study’s senior author is Dr. Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, where he is director of the weight and wellness program. Schwimmer was interviewed by Serena Gordon, longtime HealthDay consumer health and consumer education specialist. She quotes him as saying,

Obesity and body weight regulation is far more complex than is typically discussed, and these data support the idea that a viral infection could be one important cause of obesity.

The villain of the story is adenovirus 36, a particular strain of the common cold. It’s not certain, but the virus may disrupt vital information pathways in the body. The mechanism is not fully understood, but somehow, it seems to have the ability to make kids fatter. The tipoff, of course, is that the affected young people test positive for the adenovirus 36 antibody, which means that at some point in their health history they had a cold of this specific variety. They weigh an average of 50 pounds more than their contemporaries who test negative for the antibody.

It’s not even known which way the cause-and-effect arrow points, whether the virus somehow causes obesity, or whether obese kids fall prey to the virus more readily. Even the obesity-cold connection has not been proven to the satisfaction of all. Still, Schwimmer hopes that these recent discoveries will “broaden the way we think about obesity” and put an end to some of the judgmental thinking he sees. At least part of the time, we may be making unjustified indictments, which can only be detrimental to the cause of ending childhood obesity.

It doesn’t help to blame the kids for being out of control, and it doesn’t help to blame the parents for failing to control them, when the possibility exists that a problem may be due to something beyond anyone’s control — at least for the time being. There is talk of a vaccine possibly being developed in the future — but it’s a long way off.

What does this all mean for the optimal treatment of obesity? Schwimmer admits that his research has brought up more questions than it has provided answers. But it does look like a promising field for further study. He, as well as the others in the field, are also anxious that the wrong conclusions will not be drawn. For instance, if parents have a child who tests positive for the adenovirus 36 antibody, they shouldn’t just give up and resign themselves to having an obese child. Instead, they need to work with health care professionals to provide treatment aggressive enough to overcome this impediment.

Likewise, no discovery, however scientific, grants a license for kids to spend the whole day sitting on their butts, eating chocolate-covered bacon. Antibodies notwithstanding, every child needs daily physical activity and a sane diet. And one bottle of soda pop per year, on their birthday. (Just kidding.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood Obesity Might Be Linked to Strain of Cold Virus,” HealthDay, 09/20/10
Image by oddharmonic, used under its Creative Commons license.

One Response

  1. I would never have made that connection in a million years – but I guess it does make sense. I do agree though, the main issue is kids doing nothing all day. Get them off the couch and playing; that’s a start.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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