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Is obesity contagious?

Rendering of Virus under Microscope

Rendering of Virus under Microscope

Obesity possibly linked to virus.

Some scientists are now claiming that a virus originating from chickens might be responsible for obesity in some people. It has been labeled the SMAM-1 and while it hasn't been proven, it can theoretically be transferred from poultry to humans (antibodies have been found in people). The virus apparently causes a shrunken thymus, enlarged kidneys, an enlarged liver, and extra 'cushion' in the abdomen region. So can this mystery virus be the source of someone's obesity?

There are studies that have shown those infected with the virus are about 30-35 lbs heavier than those who are not. However, due to the inability to directly infect humans with the virus (i.e. ethical reasons), these studies have been very sparse and involved small sample sizes. Thus their conclusions cannot be considered entirely reliable.

This isn't the first time a virus has been blamed for obesity. Over a decade ago, scientists claimed the adenovirus-36 (AD-36) was a contributing factor to obesity by creating more (and larger) fat cells. However, this also has never been proven as the AD-36 virus was even present in 11% of non-obese people. More importantly, the effects of the virus only lasted a few months until the body built a resistance to it.

But still some want to push the idea that obesity is an uncontrollable result of disease rather than a manageable outcome of healthy diet and lifestyle choices. In fact, people from the "Obesity Society" go a step further and call obesity itself a disease of which you have no control over. The President of this society (Nikhil V. Dhurandhar) said obesity is “a serious and complex disease" and "you don’t choose obesity. It’s like diabetes. It’s not really under your control."

Perhaps in some rare instances this is indeed true. However, for the majority of people, obesity is simply the result of poor diet, sedentary life, and lack of exercise. This explains why so many people are successful in losing so much weight once they change their dietary habits and activity levels. It also explains why they regain the weight if they revert back to their former lifestyles.

If obesity is contagious, so is healthiness.

That isn't to say there are no other external and uncontrollable factors (i.e. environment, viruses, genetics) that can influence weight. But with all that we know about health and nutrition today, there's little excuse (excluding those rare thyroid diseases or genetic anomalies) for at least trying to make yourself healthier. Even the viruses that have been shown to possibly affect weight only account for temporary gains that last just a few months at most. Rather than looking outwardly for justifications, people should look inwardly at their own behaviors and choices first.

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Big Ed's picture
Big Ed is the Chief Editor for Bigatorial.
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