Infectious Obesity

On the closing day of the Canadian Obesity Summit, Obesity Society President Nikhil Dhurandhar challenged people to consider the concept of infectious obesity. He is the perfect person to issue this challenge because of his pivotal work to establish the relationship between obesity and adenovirus 36 (Ad36).

In addition to the link between some cases of obesity and Ad36, a significant amount of research has gone into establishing the idea that obesity can be transmitted through social networks. Obesity does seem to spread through social ties.

But the thinking on this subject is a bit chaotic. We are constantly bombarded with fear-mongering messages about an obesity epidemic. The very definition of epidemic is “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease.”

At the same time, NCD (non-communicable disease) is an increasingly popular acronym being tossed around by people who want to suggest they are on the inside track of public health. Putting obesity at the top of the list of NCD threats sets up a contradiction in terms. Maybe if we can accept an “exact estimate,” we can accept the idea of an “NCD epidemic.”

Or maybe not. One retort from people who refuse to think about obesity as a disease is “you can’t catch it.”

This jumble of contradictions simply reflects an incomplete understanding of the diverse collection of conditions that lead to obesity. We have a virus that may trigger it in some cases. We have environmental and genetic factors that cause it as well.

What is clear is that obesity has indeed spread through the population. Perhaps we are nearing the point where every susceptible person has it. For those who have it, the severity continues to grow and the impact on our health is growing with it.

We have no shortage of metaphors and ominous warnings. The real unmet need is for more options, backed by scientific evidence, for treating and preventing the progression of this disease.

Click here to read a new study of Ad36 in obesity and here to read a recent study of obesity in social networks.

Contagious, photograph © coloneljohnbritt / flickr

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8 Responses to “Infectious Obesity”

  1. May 05, 2015 at 8:26 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I am beginning to sense a recurring theme of the tension between “simple that I can process” vs. “complex that better reflects reality.”

    No easy solutions for that given our “fast vs. slow” thinking wiring–effort required!

    • May 05, 2015 at 8:30 am, Ted said:

      How right you are, Joe. Naively, I think simple truth is possible. This is a chronic disease that gets better with good treatment. We need even better treatments and prevention programs.

  2. May 05, 2015 at 9:44 am, Sylvia said:

    …and better access to treatment and programs! Thank you for the work you are doing.

    • May 05, 2015 at 5:26 pm, Ted said:

      I agree, Sylvia. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. May 05, 2015 at 10:31 pm, Margi Wilson said:

    Anyone who eats whole, fresh, unadulterated, organic, non gmo food will lose weight. It is the unnatural ingredients in the food that skews peoples’ ability to make wise choices.

    • May 06, 2015 at 7:50 am, Ted said:

      Problem solved.

  4. May 15, 2015 at 11:35 pm, Syl said:

    The reality is IT EXISTS WITHIN YOU. Little to do with New Year’s resolutions, birthday wishes or throwing pennies into the bottom of a well or fountain/or_ Drastic tummy tucks, diets or otherwise!

    Courage to see oneself without judgement -yet conviction and desire to make self-care a “Priority”

    • May 16, 2015 at 5:09 am, Ted said:

      Self care has a way of falling off the list sometimes. Thanks for sharing that thought, Syl.