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Can You “Catch” Obesity? Experts Weigh in on the Theory That Obesity is Contagious


About one-third of U.S. adults, and 16 percent of children and teens, are currently obese, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while it’s known that obesity increases your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and even cancer, what’s not entirely known are all of the causes. 

The same type of virus that causes sore throats, coughs and colds may also contribute to weight gain, researchers say.

Experts agree that overeating and lack of exercise are two major contributors to excess weight. But recent research has suggested that something else may also be at play -- a virus that’s as easy to catch as the common cold. 

Is There an Obesity Virus? 

Studies suggest that an adenovirus called AD-36 may be involved in some cases of obesity. There are more than 50 types of adenoviruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold and gastroenteritis. Typically, the illnesses are not serious and resolve on their own.  

However, research shows that 33 percent of obese adults have contracted AD-36 at some point in their lives, compared to just 11 percent of lean people. Further, in 2007 it was found that AD-36 could turn adult stem cells from fat tissue into fat cells. 

According to Nikhil Dhurandhar, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, the virus likely triggers obesity when it spreads to other parts of your body. 

"When it goes to fat tissue it replicates, making more copies of itself and in the process increases the number of new fat cells, which may explain why people get fat when they are infected with this virus," he told the UK’s Daily Express. 

People with the AD-36 virus could remain contagious for up to three months, researchers say.

A person exposed to the virus may recover from the related cough, cold or sore throat relatively quickly, but could reportedly gain weight for a period of three months, until their body has built up resistance to the virus. People with the virus could also remain contagious for three months.  

Still, Dhurandhar says, “ … People could be fat for reasons other than viral infections so it's really pointless to try to avoid fat people to avoid infection.” 

Other researchers also agree that while viruses may play a role in some cases of obesity, it is not a major cause. 

“A virus will never be the reason for why we have an obesity epidemic. There are far too many other factors, starting with our calorie intake exceeding our expenditure, and that's because we live such sedentary lives,” Dr. Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of the charity Weight Concern, told the UK’s Daily Mail. 

“Our dietary habits have changed beyond belief and I don't believe that's the effect of a viral infection -- it is the fault of the commercial expansion of companies making unhealthy foods,” he continued. 

The general consensus among experts? The solution to avoiding obesity is not to avoid AD-36, but rather is to follow the tried-and-true advice to eat less and exercise more.

Want to Finally Shed Some Unwanted Fat and Get in Shape? 10 Top Tips

As we all inherently know but like to forget (or choose to ignore), losing weight is typically more about simple mathematics than anything else. Eat more calories than your body burns off, and you'll start to gain weight. The equation is really just that simple: Too many calories + not enough activity = excess pounds. 

Although the equation is simple enough, losing weight can still be a struggle, and that is because of the OTHER aspect of weight loss: your emotions. Stress, depression and other anxieties can easily make you overeat or lose your motivation to work out. Meanwhile, many of us feel too overworked to have time to exercise and cook healthy meals.  

The end result is that our health and weight suffer, but it need not. Here we’ve compiled some often overlooked, and simple, tips that can help you to lose weight, without even really trying. 

Instead of approaching cooking as a chore, think of it as a way to spend quality time with your spouse … and get healthier at the same time.

  1. Make a pledge to avoid fast food, or at least dramatically cut back on it. One of the few corporations that has been profitable during the recent economic downturn is McDonald’s. Don’t let them get rich off of your waistline. Instead, make a sandwich to take for your lunch at work, and make simple meals at home in the evening.

  2. Don’t diet. Getting into shape is not about dieting or restricting your access to food. It’s about changing your lifestyle to focus on fresh, healthy foods, which you should eat as many as you want of, to feel satisfied. Mini-Mates vs. mega-mates reduce costs and can make everyone around them healthier.

  3. Skip the fat-free, sugar-free “diet” foods. Fat-free foods are often loaded with sugar to make up for the fat, and sugar-free foods contain unhealthy artificial sweeteners which for many increases appetite and weight gain. If you want a treat, opt for the real thing, just eat it in moderation.

  1. Drink Lots and Lots of Healthy Non-Bottled Water. Drinking plenty of healthy WellnessFiltered Water both fills you up and flushes out toxins from your body. It’s truly IMPORTANT that the water you drink has been filtered to remove chlorine, and that it does NOT come in a plastic bottle that could leach BPA, which may cause cancer and other diseases, into your water. If pure, filtered water is readily available and convenient in a non-BPA container you can both save a lot of money and become healthier!

  2. Eat slowly. It's a proven fact that if you wolf your food down your body won't have a chance to feel that it's full (and in the meantime you may have reached for an unnecessary second portion). It takes about 20 minutes for your body to realize it’s eaten enough, so take smaller bites and take your time to thoroughly chew each bite. If you think you're still hungry, wait about 20 minutes before deciding if you really want more.

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  1. Stretch everyday. Varied workouts are important for staying in shape, and this includes aerobic, strength training and stretching. Proper stretching is one of the most widely recommended methods to help you look and feel younger, live longer, avoid and even overcome serious health issues, and increase your mental concentration and emotional well-being, which is why we highly recommend Stretching Toward a Healthier Life, the DVD by stretching expert Jacques Gauthier. Best of all, you can do the entire routine in just 15-20 minutes!
  1. Take smaller portions. Studies have found that the larger a portion a person is served, the more they will eat. However, their feelings of satiety are no higher than people who ate smaller portions. So use smaller plates and smaller utensils which make it seem like you have had more while taking a small portion and then eat it slowly. Chances are high that you'll feel just as full as you would have with a larger portion. You can also do this when you go out to eat by splitting a meal or having the server wrap up half of your entrée for you to take home (this saves money too!).
  1. Eat protein with every meal. Protein is what makes you feel most satiated, so include some with breakfast, lunch, dinner and also your snacks. Some excellent choices include a hard-boiled egg, nuts, a small piece of cheese, meats (preferably grass-fed and organic), beans, chickpeas, etc.

If your body is dehydrated, it will not burn fat efficiently and it could lead to sugar cravings and fatigue. The typical recommendation is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, ideally from a pure, filtered source.

  1. Eat smaller meals more often. By breaking up your meals into four or five (or six or seven) small meals, instead of the typical three, you are keeping your insulin levels under control for the entire day. Out-of-control insulin levels can lead to fat accumulation. Not only that, but your body burns calories while it digests food. So, the more often you digest, the more calories you will burn.
  1. Reprogram the way you think about food. As you eat, think about the food, give thanks for it, and really taste each bite. When you savor your food in this way, you will feel full and satisfied on much less food. If you have trouble feeling calm and focused when you eat, or tend to eat in a hurry (in front of the TV, while driving, standing at the kitchen counter, etc.), try reprogramming these unhealthy habits with guided meditations using The Pure Relaxation CD. This CD will calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body, which is essential to keep up with your new healthier habits.

Recommended Reading

8 Secret Tactics that Trigger Your Body to Burn More Fat and Calories 

The 7 (Honest) Facts You Should Know About Losing Thigh Fat, Gut Fat, and Fat in Other "Problem" Areas

Sources January 26, 2009 

Yahoo News January 26, 2009

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