What if it really is a bug that makes us fat?

Coughs, sneezes and a runny nose are not the worst a bad cold can do to you – it might also make you fat.

Scientists believe a virus behind the common cold could have fuelled the obesity epidemic that has swept the developed world. The culprit? A contagious bug called adenovirus 36.

Experts told the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia that eating and exercise habits haven’t changed enough to explain why people worldwide started piling on weight at around the same time.

There’s some who insist that heart attacks are caused by a similar virus. Or at least some of them.

And of course if it is all a virus then all that blather about sugar, animal fat and the rest is bollocks, isn’t it?

39 comments on “What if it really is a bug that makes us fat?

  1. Experts told the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia that eating and exercise habits haven’t changed enough to explain why people worldwide started piling on weight at around the same time.

    Are they serious? Eating habits have changed a lot – we are eating vastly more sugar for instance. We can follow that because it is mainly imported so we know going back some time. We are eating more meat. Less fish. A lot less in the case of my family. We have not cut back on carbs at all.

    As for exercise, is they kidding me? I can point to people who were one bad winter away from hunger and who had to work damn hard in the fields each and every day except Sunday. Now their hardest working relative I know of drives a bus. He is huge as well.

    It is this claim that we haven’t changed that is likely to be the source of the stupidity here. How hard do they think farm workers worked?

  2. Given that the public-transport dependent big cities of the world (London, New York) also seem to be home to the slimmest people, I don’t really see much support for the obesity virus theory. How is it transmitted, if not through your fellow tube passengers’ coughs and sneezes? Do you have to catch it as a child to pile on the pounds? More research needed.

  3. It’s odd how people used to get over the fatness virus faster in the days when small boys would point at fat people in the street and laugh at them.

  4. Except that easting habits have changed sufficiently enough to explain it. Plenty of literature on the subject.

  5. Except that eating habits have changed sufficiently enough to explain it. Plenty of literature on the subject.

  6. My wife went on a diet and lose weight and I did neither so this is small sample gives the impression that eating less helps (I know it is not a big enough sample).

  7. And the effect of central heating? Burning calories to keep warm must have been a significant part of the energy budget in earlier ages.

  8. Ahem…

    “Dr Atkinson has patented a formula for a vaccine to guard against adenovirus 36. But the idea that obesity is contagious is so unusual that he has not been able to get funding to develop the jab.”

    Need we say more?

  9. Surely it’s the decline in religious worship which is the cause? After all, they are fairly close – church attendance has declined AT THE SAME TIME as waistlines have expanded. Voila!

    Perhaps there’s a virus which stops people thinking and makes them swallow any old bollocks?

  10. There’s no doubt that Ad-36 makes lab animals more likely to get fat, and quite good evidence that fat people are more likely to have Ad-36 antibodies than slim people. However, most fat people don’t have Ad-36 antibodies, so it’s definitely not “all a virus”.

    In any case, the proximate cause of obesity is still eating more calories than you consume. And the ready availability of sugar and fat, especially if combined, makes some people more likely to eat too much.

  11. It’s not a bug or a virus that makes people fat. Or eating too much. It’s the magic powder that pixies sprinkle over some peoples’ tummies at night.

  12. “Experts told the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia that eating and exercise habits haven’t changed enough to explain why people worldwide started piling on weight at around the same time.”

    I love argument from personal incredulity. Calories in a 12″ Domino’s pepperoni pizza: 2,000. ‘Nuff said.

  13. The Meissen Bison – “It’s odd how people used to get over the fatness virus faster in the days when small boys would point at fat people in the street and laugh at them.”

    This! This! This!

    I had a traditional British education, which was based around savage bullying from/of classmates and incessant mockery interspersed with faint praise from teachers. Disputes were settled with fisticuffs on the playground, or broken bones on the rugby pitch. And woe betide you if you went running to Sir.

    Not that most teachers were sympathetic to tell-tales. I made the childish mistake of complaining to a PE teacher that another boy spat in my hair. He looked disgusted, told me “don’t be a poof”, and gave the other boy a bollocking. I learned quickly not to be a grass.

    I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it helped me grow up to be a man.

    When you look at young people these days, an alarming percentage of them are sensitive snivelling snowflakes, well into adulthood. We didn’t have “trigger warnings” in the 80’s, we had the Three Minute Warning. We didn’t have Glee, we had Grange Hill. We didn’t cry into Twitter about “shaming”, we were too busy battering the shit out of kids from rival schools.

    And guess what? Childhood obesity was unheard of in those days.

    Education these days seems designed to produce self-entitled little princesses of both sexes.

    Bring back bullying!

  14. This is the perfect response to when my wife starts whining about a small ‘beer’ gut. It’s not me drinking, dear its Adenovirus 36. What a brilliant get out of jail card this is.

  15. Before we laugh this one off, just remember that Australian doctor from the outback which was laughed at when he said that stomach ulcers was caused by bugs and that a simple course of antibiotics can cure the problem. It is very important to me because my dad had an ulcer operation and they did cut him from the proverbial arse to tits, a scar of about one foot long!

    The fat gene or bug has been shown to come from pigs. Clue? Obesity not very prevalent amongst Muslims.

    So, do scoff at the fatties, feel superior, eat you bloody awful muesli and yoghurt, and be prepared to be shamed one day for laughing at the supposedly weakness of some misfortunate souls that happen to be fat.

  16. I think what they’re trying to say is that the bug could make things worse, not that it’s the actual cause.

    If not, then they need to lay off the LSD.

  17. @ JollyGreenMan

    Actually, obesity is very prevalent amongst Muslims (at least where there are Muslims + Money)

  18. TheJollyGreenMan – “So, do scoff at the fatties, feel superior, eat you bloody awful muesli and yoghurt, and be prepared to be shamed one day for laughing at the supposedly weakness of some misfortunate souls that happen to be fat.”

    I used to be a fatty boom boom and an alcoholic. The thing both have in common is that most fats dominos and drunkey drunkertons will swear blind they don’t eat or drink that much.

    When I changed my eating habits I lost 5 stone in just over a year, no exercise or muesli required. Just avoided sugar, reduced my carb intake and ate as much meat and veg as I wanted.

    I didn’t even have to give up my alcoholism, just swapped heroic quantities of lager with elephant-drunkening quantities of whisky.

    (I’m not recommending the gym-averse, carnivorous booze-hound lifestyle as a healthy option tho, just saying weight loss is easy if you know how.)

    I’ve no idea if there’s a virus that causes fatness but it seems most people can slim down if they want to. Diets are bollocks, treadmills are bollocks, it’s more about what you eat rather than the quantity.

  19. Here’s some nonsense-

    “And guess what? Childhood obesity was unheard of in those days.”

    Nobody had heard of the slogan, but fat kids? Yes, there were fat kids at my schools in the 70s and early 80s. Come to that, a short while ago I was helping my dad with his new PC and we were transferring files, including old family photos, and there was one of a group photo of his grandparents and various relatives, simple village folk early in this century, labouring class- and what was inescapable was that with the exception of my Auntie Phyllis (resplendent in her Sally Army uniform), all the women were decidedly on the hefty side.

    We didn’t have a slogan, no. But plump people? Yes, yes we did.

  20. I would also add that I don’t know what kind of arsehole backgrounds some of the people here come from, but if I’d ever “pointed and laughed at a fat person in the street” I’d have got a clip around the ear from my ordinary, small “c” conservative parents, and bloody right too.

  21. Ian B – we had “fat kids” in my school, but not many of them, and definitely nowhere near the size of some kids you see now. I don’t think they’d even pass as fat by today’s standards.

    Been to Pizza Hut lately? The buffet is usually crowded with children sporting more chins than the colour supplement in Goatee Aficionado.

    If they remade The Goonies now the entire cast would be doing the Truffle Shuffle. Except the Chinese kid.

  22. Ian B – I’m a member in good standing of the British Fellowship of Arseholes (incorporating the English & Welsh League of Wankers), and I take umbrage at your arseholophobic comments.

    I assume that, on the internet, when people say stuff like “let’s point and laugh at teh fatties”, their tongues are pressing firmly against the epithelial cells inside their mouths.

    That said, as a fat man I did receive some degree of unwelcome public attention for my heft, especially when a couple of gay guys who I didn’t know commented that I looked like a “bear”.

    After I googled “gay bear”, I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or flattered. However, at least they didn’t poke me in the bellybutton and say I was looking “well”.

  23. It’s largely imaginary, or, selection bias, take your pick. Once you’re primed to notice fat people specifically, that’s all you notice. Your whole perception is skewed. See also, e.g. the “plague of drunkenness”.

    All of this is, at its heart, the natural outcome of a moralist society; in such societies, people are taught to spend their whole time noticing and condemning transgressors against whatever the moral value system is. This is the real plague. And at the heart is a basic desire to demonstrate that the greater mass of the people are unfit to govern themselves and must instead be controlled by a moral elite, whose ostentatious morality is their own circular proof of their own fitness to govern.

    Most of these, including ours, are based on some variant of the puritan, ascetic ideal. By setting the physical and spiritual against one another, as eternal enemies- the flesh corrupts the soul, the body corrupts the intellect- moral depravitude is defined as those who indulge the flesh, whether sexually, or by eating too many cakes, or by some other means. The virtuous person is the abstainer, the self-denier, the mortified ascetic, and the moral discourse is one of self denial.

    Well, to hell with it all. Some people are fat. If there is a reason for it like a virus, or sugar, or what have you, that might be of use to them if they, subjectively, personally, would prefer to be thin. But we will never be a free society until we recognise that that is purely a matter for themselves and their subjective preferences, and the matter ends there.

  24. TheJollyGreenMan
    June 2, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    be prepared to be shamed one day for laughing at the supposedly weakness of some misfortunate souls that happen to be fat.

    =================

    If you eat 100 calories a day, you will lose weight. That is an absolute fact.

    If you eat 200 calories a day, you will lose weight. That is an absolute fact.

    If you eat 300 calories a day, you will lose weight. That is an absolute fact.

    For EVERY person, there is a number of calories they can eat every day, and neither gain nor lose weight. Factors differ from person to person, but the range is about 1200 to 2000 calories per day. I have heard that 10 calories per day per pound of body weight is a good estimate.

    Your misfortunate (sic) souls that happen to be fat eat too damn much. It is self-evident. Even a third-grader knows it. It has nothing to do with eating fat, eating sugar, gluten, or some funky virus.

  25. The theory fits right in with the current trend in victimhood and problems being not our fault – someone else is to blame.

  26. Yes thanks Gamecock, if you don’t feed an organism it starves. Thanks for that. The question though is why people get fat, since every organism has a means of regulating its consumption of nutrients. We call this “being hungry” and “being all full up, honestly I couldn’t eat another thing”.

    Modern humans are the only organisms on Earth that even know what a calorie is, and have only recently had the intellectual and practical means to measure them. Every living creature has to rely on their homestatic systems. So, it comes down to whether something is broken, or something in the diet is confusing those systems, or whether there is not actually a problem at all.

    The number of truly “obese”- that is, medically harmfully overweight- people is small. The number of people who are fatter than they, or the consensus, think they ought to be is quite large. But that is a matter of cosmetic aesthetics. I don’t like plump birds much either, but whether that is a medical problem for them is another matter.

  27. I notice that many people are passionate about food and think it about often, whereas others only think about food when hungry.

    At my place of work one is expected to bring in cake etc for one’s birthday, biscuits are often supplied for meetings and i have been chided for not supplying biscuits for the daily stand-up.

    About half of my colleagues are over-weight, yet give and receive food that is not needed. Only today, there were chocolate chip cookies and Cadbury’s Roses, and the office manager came round and told us all to go get ours.

    One of the women bakes for a hobby and brings in lovely little fairy cakes, chocolate brownies etc, she bakes enough for a rugby team in her own time and at her own expense then brings the lot in and gives it all to us. We don’t need it, probably don’t even want it, but most of us sample her baking delights.

  28. PaulB – “In any case, the proximate cause of obesity is still eating more calories than you consume.”

    As is well known, bacteria or virus, there were no fat people in Auschwitz.

    “And the ready availability of sugar and fat, especially if combined, makes some people more likely to eat too much.”

    Well no. That is the wrong way to look at it. The ready availability of sugar, fat and especially carbohydrates, *allows* some people to eat too much. It is not as if the chips are leaping up and forcing themselves into their mouths.

  29. As is well known, bacteria or virus, there were no fat people in Auschwitz.

    Another staggering deployment of “obvious but useless”.

    Look, let’s use an analogy. You have a water tank in your loft. It keeps overflowing and flooding. Observing that it doesn’t overflow if you turn off the water supply doesn’t actually address the issue you need to address, in an engineering sense. Does it?

  30. Johnny Bonk-

    The sharing of food and drink is a basic human means of social bonding that we find in every culture.

  31. Muslims not fat?! The Muslim Mediterranean countries are some of the ladies places on earth. Turkey is the only place I’ve been besides the US where 200kg land whales are an everyday sighting.

  32. Ian B – “Another staggering deployment of “obvious but useless”.”

    It is obvious but it is not useless. You eat too much, you get fat. You eat less, you get thin. We can quibble about what sort of things you should eat – I am a big fan of the low carb diet just, to be honest, because. It annoys the right people mostly. But in the end, you eat too much, you get fat.

    “Look, let’s use an analogy. You have a water tank in your loft. It keeps overflowing and flooding. Observing that it doesn’t overflow if you turn off the water supply doesn’t actually address the issue you need to address, in an engineering sense. Does it?”

    Actually it does. You are putting too much water into your tank. Stop it and it stops overflowing.

  33. SMFS-

    But you haven’t solved the problem. The problem with the tank is not too much available water. It’s the regulating mechanism (e.g. the ball valve). If your loft tank was overflowing and the plumber just turned the water supply off, you wouldn’t consider that a sensible solution. Well you might, but a normal person wouldn’t.

    Human beings have no idea without looking it up in books how many calories foods have. There is no way to judge the correct amount to eat other than by the body’s homeostatic signalling- hunger.

    So the question stands as to why those systems are not working, if they are not, indeed. For it may be that “too fat” according to particular aesthetics is not what is actually “too fat” from that body’s system’s point of view.

    Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult analogy. Fer chrissakes.

  34. @Ian B

    “The sharing of food and drink is a basic human means of social bonding that we find in every culture.”

    Indeed, and now that food is so cheap, it is doing us no good.

    She gave me remains of kids birthday cake to take in ( huge cake, only a quarter of it taken at party and less than that eaten), i dropped it in our bin on the way out.

    People seem obsessed by f*****g food, going anywhere, what about the food for the journey, someone coming round, what about the food, visiting, better pop into the deli – on on it goes, drives me f*****g spare.

    My wife is a typical example, she’s forever buying food, for all occasions and eventualities. Sometimes I say “we’ll be alright, we’ll be able to find something when we’re hungry” – you would think there is a food scarcity from the reaction that gets.

    Oddly (not) I’m skinny and get irritated by unnecessary planning for food, though i do have to say that i know people who will put on half a stone over xmas having eaten no more than me, i couldn’t put on half a stone to save my life.

    food,food,food, shut up about f*****g, I’ll eat when i’m hungry.

  35. “In any case, the proximate cause of obesity is still eating more calories than you consume.”

    This is a bit like saying the the proximate cause of wealth is earning more money than you spend. It’s a useful fact to know, but it’s not the only factor.

    And technically it’s not true – the difference between input and output is related to the rate of change of the quantity. A fat person who eats the same number of calories they burn will stay fat, a thin person who eats the same number of calories they burn will stay thin. And generally speaking, everybody does, to a very high accuracy, eat as many calories as they burn. Homeostasis can either adjust the appetite to match usage, or can (more slowly) adjust the rate of burn to match the input. ~The latter is the reason diets don’t work – any cut in input will cause someone to lose weight, but it levels off after about 6 months and the weight slowly goes back on over the following five years, even if you stick to it. The body adapts to what it sees as starvation by reducing the metabolism. You then have to step up the restriction on input to maintain the same effect. People who manage to keep the weight off usually only manage to do so by becoming obsessive about it – like an anorexic. Making such adjustments to metabolism is unhealthy, but it enabled people to survive back in the days when they didn’t have a choice about going on a diet.

    The primary factors that affect weight are not about what people eat, it’s mostly genetics and age. People naturally get heavier as they get older. (And this gives the clue to the cosmetic appeal of dieting – it allows you to pretend you are younger and more fertile than you are.) And being generally thin or fat is a genetic trait, like skin colour or hair colour or whether you are tall or short. (And bullying people for being fat is similar to bullying people for being brown. It’s highly unpleasant behaviour.)

    And yes, there are some other factors, like Ad36 and gut bacteria that might also affect it. Enterobacteria produce plasma endotoxins that may cause insulin insensitivity, affecting the appetite.

    Like most of the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, the body has a desired level that the control system aims for, that is for that individual body the optimum for health. A naturally fat person is healthier fat than they would be thin. A naturally thin person is not, having a lower ‘healthy weight’. We’re not all the same.

    This leads to some unexpected effects, like the so-called “obesity paradox”, in which it is found statistically that fat people live longer, and survive illness better. It’s only considered a paradox because people have been saying “fat is unhealthy” for so long that finding out it’s not true sounds really strange.

    That’s not to say that the homeostatic mechanism is always perfect. Those people you see on freak-show TV who cannot get out of bed are what happens when the control mechanism go wrong. They’ve basically got a metabolic disease that’s messed up their biochemistry. It is not – as many seem to believe – simply a lack of willpower. That sort of thing also shows how precisely controlled our weight is normally – that (or its skeletal reverse) is what would happen if it was simply a matter of personal choice about how much to eat.

    Eating disorders like anorexia earn our sympathy. It’s regarded as a medical condition requiring treatment. But when the disorder is in the other direction, people are told, in effect, to “stop being such a fat pouf” and left to deal with it themselves.

    But this sort of thing is rare – a lot rarer than TV makes it seem. For the vast majority of cases they’re talking about, the age-related “beer belly”/”matronly” sort of fatness is normal, natural, perfectly healthy and nothing to worry about. It’s just a standard media health scare drummed up by bad statistics and a fad diet industry that needs to persuade healthy people they are sick to sell their quack cures.

    At the same time this “obesity epidemic” has been going on, life expectancy has been rising so fast they’ve had to put the pension age up, and adjust all the payout rates. Yes people have got heavier since the days we were all agricultural laborers working outdoors all day for a crust of bread, but we’ve got taller and healthier, too. It should be called ‘better nutrition’, and it’s something to celebrate.

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