The obesity virus: don't believe the hype

Could a virus be to blame for the ballooning on the American public at large? According to a recent study, that could be the case. But not so fast… Let's take a closer look.

The study's author, Nikhil Dhurandhar, an associate professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, said "When this virus goes to fat tissue, it replicates, making more copies of itself and in the process increasing the number of new fat cells." Then he added that this "may explain why the fat tissue expands and why people get fat when they are infected with the virus."

I don't have a problem with the study itself - it's interesting and legitimate medical research. But I do have a problem with the way the story was reported. The sensationalist manner in which it was splashed across nearly every news channel and website was shameful. The Fox News website, for example, ran the story about the virus with the headline "Obesity 'virus' spreads like common cold." TV news broadcasts ran teasers saying "weight gain could be caused by a virus."

These over-simplified story angles implied that obesity could be "caught" like a cold. And the story was positioned in this way because that's exactly the sort of thing a nation with an obesity epidemic wants to hear. What fat person wouldn't stay tuned through the commercial break to hear the good news that his weight issue has more to do with a virus than the half-gallon of ice cream he just wolfed down?

But the fact is, the study doesn't really say the virus is a cause of chronic obesity. The weight gain caused by the virus only lasts until the body's resistance to the bug can be established - about three months. Dhurandhar even pointed out that "people could be fat for reasons other than viral infections." The study's real finding is that the virus can make people who are already fat gain weight because they have more fat cells for the virus to replicate. It's not that fat people are fat because they have caught this virus!

But how many people do you think stuck with the story long enough to read those details buried in the fifth paragraph, or glossed over with a few words at the end of a TV news segment?

As if you needed more proof that personal accountability and responsibility are all but dead in our culture, check out this next story…