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A Mysterious Virus That Could Cause Obesity (wired.com)
103 points by electic on Dec 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments



For the sake of discussion let's just say this virus makes people more prone to Obesity (certainly there is a lot of correlation)... It would be interesting to test if the damage and/or mechanism of this virus is a one time event or ongoing issue. What would happen if the people and/or chickens were given anti-viral meds... or took lots of vitamin C? Is the effect reversed? I have no idea what would happen but I'd be very interested to see. HIV patients given antiviral drugs sometimes experience lipodystrophy, which may somehow be related but that's just a wild guess.

Also, if I'm a ruthless chicken farmer wouldn't I want all my chickens to have this since it makes them heavier based on the same food intake?

Finally, what's going on with the people who have the antibody but haven't gained weight? What's different about their immune function, diet and/or lifestyle.


This could also be a possible explanation for this: http://www.livescience.com/10277-obesity-rise-animals.html

>Allison first stumbled across evidence of overweight animals while looking at data on marmosets from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. The average weight of the monkeys had gone up over the decades, he noticed, and there seemed to be no plausible explanation. Allison queried primate center researcher Joseph Kemnitz as to what the cause might be: Were the marmosets from a different supplier? Had they been bred to be larger? The answers were "no" and "no."

>But the monkeys' diets had been changed over the years, a switch that was well-documented by the lab. So Allison tried running the numbers again, this time controlling for the diet change.

>"It only made the results stronger," he said. With the diet change, the animals should have lost weight, if anything.


> With the diet change, the animals should have lost weight, if anything.

I think the far more likely explanation is that they don't have a complete understanding of nutrition and their expectations about the diet change were wrong.

"But we put the marmosets on a No-Fat diet! They should be losing weight!"


Fad diets a la Taubes's poorly researched book are not very popular in lab settings, where calories in/out work tends to make quantification easier.

And given the low cost and overhead of fresher food, many research animals I've been involved with in a past life are pretty well compared to th humans overseeing them.


Does anyone know whether as a matter of epidemiology, prevalence of this virus matches any part of an obesity map like this:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/map-o...

My guess is this virus would be equally prevalent in North America and Western Europe and therefore as a matter of public health has no impact whatsoever on obesity.

Instead, in my reading in North America it is very difficult to eat in a healthy way and in my personal experience people are eager to find reasons other than the food supply, tastes, and behaviors.

If, on the other hand, this virus was prevalent in North America but very rare in Western Europe it would give some indication that perhaps it was worthy of attention. I would like to know if anyone has applied this differential.


There's actually a lot of data on this because adenoviruses are popular vaccine vectors of study right now, and the selected serotype must be one that as few people as possible have titers against, so researchers test random people for immunity.

For example, [0] (2010) reports that ~5% of people in the US were positive for Ad36, 35% Thailand, 52% South Africa, 91%(!) Malawi, 88% Cameroon, 48% Botswana, 43% Brazil. Malawi, Cameroon, Thailand and Botswana are solidly in the lower % obesity parts of the map that you linked to, while the US has the lowest antibody prevalence and highest obesity. They don't have Ad36 data for Europe unfortunately, but ...

Ad36 is not the only adipogenic (fat-causing) serotype. Ad5, 9, 31, 36 and 37 are all correlated or linked to being adipogenic [1]. The above paper [0] has numbers for Ad5 if you're interested: Europe was 39% negative, US 31%, the African countries 10-13%, Brazil 18%.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19925902 [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26352001


Depending on how it spreads, the virus could appear to be more common in populations where there has been historic starvation, because it seems like it would help you survive in those situations.


And the flip side of the coin is it would cause extreme obesity if by some economic miracle carb intake were totally unlimited and trended toward infinity. So it would eventually (on a very long scale) be bred out of economic areas of infinite carb availability. But eventually is far too long and too much human suffering, so temporarily we're very very fat.

As a hypothesis you could create a mathematical model where the faster a country industrializes or otherwise moves beyond bare subsistence and periodic famine, the harder the spike of obesity.

That's not a bad match to existing obesity maps, especially when the obesity map is corrected for country of origin not current geographic location.


I greatly would have preferred to see Western Europe instead of the countries in your second paragraph, because while tastes and convenience differ, income is comparable in European capitals especially, and people can eat at McDonald's if they want, with the same impact on their budget. Whereas some of your other countries differ substantially in all metrics from N. America (specifically the U.S. In particular the U.S. has per capital income that is a multiple of each of those countries [1] - in terms of purchasing power, Thailand, South Africa, Malawi, Cameroon, Botswana, Brazil are at $16,130 - $13,209 - $1,126 - $3,148 - $16,415 - $15,646 respectively (the hyphens are just my separators) to the U.S. at $56,084. The food choices and culture would also very radically differ. While Western Europe and North America have differing food cultures, habits, and especially convenience and availability, at least the purchasing power is comparable, the worst offenders (e.g. cola with sugar, cheap fast food) are equally available and many cultural aspects (general industrialization and urbanization, amount people work physically) are at least roughly similar. The countries you listed are just very different across all of these points, as far as I know. Even an American who goes to Thailand isn't going to eat the same as in America - whereas while going travelling in Europe, they well might eat very comparably.

So while you support the argument I was making, I actually would prefer to see data about incidence in Western Europe - not the countires you listed.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)... - (I'm using the first column, International Monetary Fund (2015))


Its interesting that obesity map is indistinguishable from a map of type-II diabetes.

A reasonable hypothesis, given a virus that sucks glucose out of the blood and fills tissue with fat, is that the higher blood glucose levels of type 2 diabetes would supercharge fat production in those infected with the virus.

So if the patient is infected, and their blood sugar goes up 20%, their fat production will go up 20% regardless of diet. I can see how that would quickly result in very fat diabetes patients.

It would be fascinating to separate the disease symptoms of type-2 diabetes that are caused solely by obesity from those caused solely by blood sugar.

Obviously it would be easier to recover from type-2 diabetes related obesity if a viral infection that essentially creates fat were not turbocharged because of blood chemistry reasons at the same time as the patient is trying to lose fat.

Another interesting study would be children. Anecdotally they can eat hundreds of pounds of sugar and dozens of gallons of corn syrup and remain skinny, until suddenly, perhaps after infection, or perhaps after their pancreas gives out causing a blood sugar rise, they explode in fatness given the same or even lower carb intake.

Quite possibly due to the infection, high blood sugar is causing fatness rather than the other way around, with some interesting implications for treatment. Normally artificially lowering blood sugar would seem to shove it into the fat generation path, but if high blood sugar is turbo charging the infection, perhaps lower blood sugar levels would paradoxically cause weight loss...

You could also run a study of low carb diet success and failure vs infection rate. People with low level semi-diagnosed type-2 diabetes (its a spectrum not a binary) should respond extremely well to a low carb weight loss diet... uninfected people or people infected but without type-2 symptoms should not respond very well to a low carb weight loss diet.


I really doubt this virus has anything to do with obesity in aggregate, the causes are pretty well understood.

>in my reading in North America it is very difficult to eat in a healthy way and in my personal experience people are eager to find reasons other than the food supply, tastes, and behaviors.

You hit the nail on the head, this is probably why this story got as many votes as it did.


A quick Google search brought up a paper from '97 on this topic: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9385623 . Considering all the progress in genetic diagnostics I wonder why this topic has not gained more visibility. Is it due to correctness, statistical relevance for the general population (or population outside India) or slowness of knowledge dissemination in the medical community?


Without regarding any other research on this topic, this particular paper has some interesting notes that may be considered. The sample size (52) is somewhat small, and the humans in this sample are already obese. (Even) the N-AGPT group (no antibodies found) had a 30.7 BMI on average. This makes it difficult to conclude that the virus was the cause of obesity based on this paper alone, as the entire sample set was obese by definition (BMI >30). At the very best one could infer that the level of obesity was affected by the virus to some extent.


‘In God we trust, all others bring data.’

I love that quote, I can't remember seeing it before.


I've seen "in good we trust, all others pay cash" 30 years ago - the paraphrasing might be new but the basic saying isn't.


In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash is the name of a novel that the movie A Christmas Story was based on. I don't believe that the novel invented that phrase though.


In God we trust, all others must submit an X.509 Certificate.


“There are three ways that we think Ad-36 makes people fatter: (1) It increases the uptake of glucose from the blood and converts it to fat; (2) it increases the creation of fat molecules through fatty acid synthase, an enzyme that creates fat; and (3) it enables the creation of more fat cells to hold all the fat by committing stem cells, which can turn into either bone or fat, into fat. So the fat cells that exist are getting bigger, and the body is creating more of them.”

I assume they mean three possible ways and that only one of them is probably happening or do they think all three are happening (required)? I doubt all three would be happening but I could be wrong.

Minor nitpick... Is the list ordered by some priority or is it arbitrary (and if arbitrary bullet points or hyphens would be nice instead of emphasizing the count).


> So the fat cells that exist are getting bigger, and the body is creating more of them.

That summary at the end indicates that the researchers believe all 3 are happening.


Must be my mental holiday hangover but I didn't see that summary. I assume you mean the last sentence which I assumed was part of the third point: So the fat cells that exist are getting bigger, and the body is creating more of them. I suppose it does require 2 and 3 but does it require 1?


Yeah, I read it as minimally requiring 3), and either 1) or 2). So probably meant to include all three.


Curse you, interwebz, for triggering today's time suck by forcing me to surf deeper and deeper into PubMed. There is a bunch of new papers on AD-36 in just the last 8 weeks!

Anyway, here are some points of interest:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517116/ "Adenovirus 36 and Obesity: An Overview" -- non-paywalled full text!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25479564 Adenovirus 36 attenuates weight loss from exercise (!) but improves glycemic control by increasing mitochondrial activity in the liver.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27825952 Adenovirus 36 antibody detection: Improving the standard serum neutralization assay. (The first assay I heard of, in 2001, cost about $500 then.)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24614097 Proof-of-concept for a virus-induced obesity vaccine; vaccination against the obesity agent adenovirus 36

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27903748 Hepatic Expression of Adenovirus 36 E4ORF1 Improves Glycemic Control and Promotes Glucose Metabolism via AKT Activation


The truth is that obesity is complex and does not have a single risk factor. Lack of exercise, over-eating, depression, anxiety, gut bacteria, food chemicals (emulsifiers, asapartame etc.), refined grains and now this virus all are risk factors. They also interact with each other, making understanding complex (see http://outcomereference.com/outcomes/3 )

I am glad though they are researching this. If a vaccine could be found, it might decrease risk for a significant portion of the population. It does not negate the fact that dish portions in North America are much larger than they should be or that there is still too much processed food in the average american diet.


So is there a virus out there that will do the opposite? Or maybe some gene modifications that could be made?


Well you could always get a tapeworm parasite, though I doubt that would be sound medical advice ;)


Reminds me of this guy[1] who claims to have cured his own Ulcerative Colitis with roundworms.

1. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/12/09/worms.health/


Maybe, here's one (with a few human subject): http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v4/n10/full/tp201498a.html

Here's another (in mice, not sure if they've tried people yet): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22458428

The best thing people can do to change their gut flora is to cut back on sugar and increase dietary fibre.


Gut flora engineering is in fact a prominent line of research many groups are studying. The idea of tailoring the gut flora to reduce sugar uptakes is a very compelling one.

But it's also raising hard questions about why we think it's okay to sell so much sugar in foods...


  The best thing people can do to change their gut flora
Diet change can, at best, improve the ratios of beneficial vs harmful microbes, but it can't introduce missing microbes that aren't there at all... hence the fecal transplant.


I'm more curious as to what the goal of increasing fat mass would be for the virus. You'd think that it has to be part of its reproductive cycle somehow. Are the viruses hiding out inside of fat cells?


That doesn't have to be a specific goal; it could be just a side-effect. Viruses "goal", in general, is to make more copies of itself.

One possibility is that a host that gains weight easily will be more resilient in times of famine.


Assuming they are trying to come up with a treatment based on this theory but that wasn't mentioned.


tldr; a virus, Ad-36, may or may not cause obesity in humans.

> Though Dhurandhar and Atkinson have conducted several strong studies showing the contribution of Ad-36 to fatness, skepticism remains. Atkinson says, “I remember giving a talk at a conference where I presented 15 different studies in which Ad-36 either caused or was correlated to fatness.


It's amusing how you quote only the first half of the paragraph and show by that what the second half of that very same paragraph states: People ignore the results, cause they don't fit their world view. For those who do not want to search for it, here's the full paragraph:

Though Dhurandhar and Atkinson have conducted several strong studies showing the contribution of Ad-36 to fatness, skepticism remains. Atkinson says, “I remember giving a talk at a conference where I presented 15 different studies in which Ad-36 either caused or was correlated to fatness. At the end of it, a good friend said to me, ‘I just don’t believe it.’ He didn’t give a reason; he just didn’t believe it. People are really stuck on eating and exercise as the only contributors to fatness. But there is more to it.”

---

Edit: The next paragraph seems to be also very relevant, so again reprinted for those who do not want to click through:

Dhurandhar adds, “There’s a difference between science and faith. What you believe belongs in faith and not in science. In science you have to go by data. I have faced people who are skeptical, but when I ask them why, they can’t pinpoint a specific reason. Science is not about belief, it is about fact. There is a saying—‘In God we trust, all others bring data.’”


> a good friend said to me

Why is a gut feeling relevant?

The anecdote you were compelled to add is journalistic flare and is immaterial to the conclusion drawn from actual studies, which I quoted originally.

> People ignore the results

The tldr was a reference to the studies and their results...


> may or may not

I like that. We put it in the title above, as well as changing linkbait 'the' to modest 'a'.

If anyone can suggest a better (i.e. more accurate and neutral) title, we can change it again.


In the spirit of community feedback: I dont really see how the original article was clickbait at all. "The" is appropriate since its talking about a specific virus that has a potentially novel biochemical effect not otherwise seen, and "may or may not" is literally the same thing as "could", ie, they both imply a lack of conclusive proof. The original title never claimed "all obesity" or conclusive evidence. You've mostly just made the title more wordy.


Wordy? Ouch! Ok, I took out "may or may not".

I disagree about "The", though. Much like "this", it's a clickbait device—somehow it grabs attention whether it deserves it or not. And it's misleading, too, because it implies there's only one of the thing.


No insult intended with wordy, I realize moderating is a difficult and sometimes thankless task and most calls are non-obvious, I'm just a guy with opinions. Fair enough on "the", I see your point.


There's an endless search for blame, but it's almost always about food intake. Types of food, amounts of food, level of activity.

In modern society, people generally eat ridiculously calorie dense overprocessed garbage food that ravages insulin sensitivity and then they remain inactive for 23+ hours a day, barely shuffling from a car to a desk to a car to a couch. Unsurprisingly, they gain weight.


There is some element of this, but that cannot possibly be the only story. We know it cannot be because some drugs have a side effect of weight gain even if diet is held constant.

Raw calories in calories out surely plays a part, but many people eat 1.5x their daily burn with no discernable weight gain.

Obesity, like most human conditions including "sick" and "cancer" are actually a family of related conditions with overlapping symptoms.


Sure, there is sometimes a hormonal component, ask any woman on birth control about that. But mostly it's about overeating garbage food which harms the bodies natural ability to handle insulin and glucose.

Also, dietary guidelines for caloric intake are far too high for a modern sedentary lifestyle. There was actually a study about this recently discussed here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/26/meals-parents-mad...

And yes very rarely there may be some underlying condition. But that is indeed rare. Keep in mind obesity was practically nonexistent 40 and 50 years ago.


If there ARE mitigating factors then they need to be examined and understood! I'm not sure why you feel safe assuming that CIN/COUT is always an explanation.

It's extremely easy to say, "Oh those people are fat because they're sedentary." Re-examine this though, because it's a variant of a common "you get what you deserve" mindset that plagues health issues for many people contracting conditions that cause society to look down on them.

It's also untrue that obesity didn't exist in the 50s, however even if it was less prevalent ... it's simply not true that people were substantially less sedentary in the extremes back then. If anything, employment was MORE demanding of a sedentary lifestyle.

It's probably a combination of multiple factors including things like available diet options, a reduction in habits like smoking with proven weight reduction side effects, etc. Is it really unimaginable that a virus makes people on certain diets more prone to obesity, requiring substantially more work to reduce weight?

What's more, given that employment is a precursor to survival in our society and it is difficult to obtain and maintain employment while obese, it seems to behoove us to examine every avenue we have to make sure we can resolve those conditions regardless of value judgement about lifestyle. A strictly capitalist analysis of the situation suggests preventative and accessible care will be substantially cheaper and more productive than the "let them die of poverty-related complications in the streets" approach should people fall out of where the system can reach.


A strictly capitalist solution would be for health care providers to charge significantly higher prices for the same treatment of a fat patient vs normal BMI patient to compensate for the increased health care costs associated with caring for obesity, risks and comorbidities. Currently that is not allowed.

Allowing health insurers to adjust rates based on BMI would be a capitalist/market based solution as well. Dietary choices would directly impact a persons health care costs. That is also currently not allowed.

If you're concerned about market approaches for some reason, you could go the government sin tax route and tax BMI on a progressive scale, and also tax sugar and carbohydrate products. Dietary choices would directly impact someones costs. Considering junk food is an unhealthy lifestyle choice, that particular idea is not any different from taxing alcohol, smoking or gambling.

In the meantime, related health care costs will keep rising.


> A strictly capitalist solution would be for health care providers to charge significantly higher prices for the same treatment of a fat patient vs normal BMI patient to compensate for the increased health care costs associated with caring for obesity, risks and comorbidities. Currently that is not allowed.

Nah, because this is a terrible outcome on a few levels. Let's cut over it:

1. BMI is widely acknowledged as a terrible metric of health best relegated to old high school textbooks about "overall health-wellness". It's basically statistical noise outside extreme outliers on either end of the spectrum. And yet, people here keep offering it because they seem opposed to modern health education.

2. Capitalism is ultimately built on a foundation of a relatively stable workforce. Without a constant infusion of human capital it's profoundly shortsighted and suboptimal to simply let people die in the streets. It takes time to train people, and so it makes sense to maintain their health.

3. The cheapest healthcare by leaps and bounds is preventative. So if we take it as a given that a stable workforce is good for the long term growth of industry then it makes sense for us to act early, prescriptively and preventatively.

Of course, I personally find these motivations vile. It is a profoundly silly idea that unguided capitalism should be the gatekeeper of health care. A more mercurial and senseless angel of death you could not dream in your darkest nightmares.

But unless we're happy with a society built on building lots of money for a few people in castles surrounded by dead bodies, we probably need to reconsider our stance on health care.

And I'm a bit disturbed at the confidence you show in debating this subject given how many misconceptions you seem to have about it.


> Keep in mind obesity was practically nonexistent 40 and 50 years ago.

Even in 1962 (54 years ago) the prevalence of adult obesity was 13% in the US -- and it has increased steadily since -- so it was very far from "practically non-existent" 50, and even moreso 40, years ago; to the extent you might have some legitimate point, ludicrous hyperbole like this tends to obscure it.


Congratulations on completely not understanding the entire issue of weight gain and obesity research that's been happening for the last 15 years. You win all the prizes.


We ban accounts for being uncivil like this (and below), so please don't do this again. Instead, please (re)-read the following, and post civilly and substantively, or not at all.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html


I have read the guidelines but they don't cover this situation. There doesn't seem to be a way for me to respond (or, especially, not respond) other than like I did. How should I, assuming the following:

-- The literal part of the comment was misinformation.

-- The subtext of the message was flamebait, implying that people are fat simply because they cram too much food down their throats.

-- No response would have just left the false information hanging thus validating the idea. Therefore no response was not a useful option. (Think anti-vaxers. Don't want to leave misinformation alone because it propagates.)

-- A response that talked to the points made in the comment would have validated both the text and subtext even further.

My response pointing out I was aware of the misinformation and the subtext to let the poster know I wasn't going to validate it nor accept it seemed to be the appropriate solution.

What would have been the proper response that would nullify both the misinformation presented in the comment AS WELL AS the subtext?


Comments to HN need to be civil and substantive. The comment was neither. Here's how I look at it:

"Congratulations on completely not understanding" --> snark and personal swipe—definitely uncivil.

"the entire issue of weight gain and obesity research that's been happening for the last 15 years" --> ok, but just mentioning this isn't the same as saying anything substantive about it.

"You win all the prizes" --> more snark and personal swipe

Civility is most important, so if you'd dropped the first and third bits and kept the second, we wouldn't have chided you. But if you wanted to post a good comment, it could have begun like this:

Obesity research for the last 15 years has shown there's a lot more to this. For example, ... and then add something specific.

Consider how much more polite and specific KirinDave's reply was: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13267354.


* > ...and then add something specific*

No, No, Absolutely not!

Don't you understand?! Anything specific would legitimizing the comment and subtext of the posters comment. This feeds into a false narrative that's been going on for years.

Anything without snark would have made the commentator's message seem legitimate! Only the snark shuts down false "scientific sounding" narrative and the fat shaming subtext.

KirinDave's reply, while well intentioned, still feeds into this narrative and allows the commenter to continue arguing that fat people just need to buckle down and stop shoveling food in order to balance calories.

We'll disagree on this. I think a lack of civility and the addition of snark is indeed called for in these types of comments. However, I understand your comments and realize that the mods make the community. Time for me to step away I guess.


[flagged]


Please don't post uncivil or unsubstantive comments, even when provoked. It just makes the thread worse.


What you cannot see is still there if only you let the light stream from your eyes. Be well second half.


Article just shows that that the virus helps makes glucose easier and leads to more fat generation but the subject of article doesn't show clean eating and rigorous exercise, try as you may the body cannot make energy deposits (fat) out of thin air


No the article doesn't show that. It just shows there is a correlation of increased weight gain for both chickens and humans that come in contact with Ad-36 virus.

The mechanism to how the virus works is unclear as stated by the article (3 possible ways were alleged) as well as how so many do what you just did: assume that a virus has little role and that it is the patients fault:

Atkinson says, “I remember giving a talk at a conference where I presented 15 different studies in which Ad-36 either caused or was correlated to fatness. At the end of it, a good friend said to me, ‘I just don’t believe it.’ He didn’t give a reason; he just didn’t believe it. People are really stuck on eating and exercise as the only contributors to fatness. But there is more to it.”

Did you actually read the article?


It's because we as a society treat obesity as immoral. You see this across any disorder where there is a sizable proportion of the population who think it's a "choice" rather than a disease that needs to be treated: depression, alcoholism, ADHD. People refuse to believe evidence in contradiction to their moral upbringing, rather than refine their morals.


Not disagreeing entirely, but better examples would have been gay and trans, where the gay and trans people haven't changed very much but the medical and cultural response toward them has changed quite a bit over the last couple decades.

Also (original) OP seems to assume starvation mode is as healthy as normal mode, which is ... questionable at best. Yes if a tapeworm is sucking glucose out of your blood, as long as it doesn't suck too much and kill you, you'll either have to go into starvation fat burning mode essentially permanently as long as you're infected which might have some negative long term side effects, or you can try to live normally which will result in obesity. Aside from the medical problems from living in permanent starvation mode, I imagine the psychological experience is incredibly unpleasant.

From memory starvation is contraindicated for recovery from surgery, pregnancy, and athletic training. I wonder how many infected people die after a relatively boring surgery because either they're fat or they're starving so they can't recover correctly. Or miscarriages where the body thinks its in deep starvation mode so better the mother survive than take them both down, despite normal food intake. Aside from the obvious pregnancy complications from obesity, of course.

Any way you look at it, that virus needs eradicating.


Your cause and effect are backwards. People think that obesity, depression, alcoholism, ADHD are moral failings because they think that they're under your conscious control and therefore not susceptible to biochemical intervention.

(In particular, to break the cycle we'd have to start by teaching people better biology — it's no good arguing with people's morals if you don't start from the same basis of facts as them.)


I think you're just misreading what I wrote. "People think it's a choice because they think it's immoral" is clearly an absurd parsing.


[removed my unsubstantiated complaints about the article]


Downright deceptive summary.

The article shares a boatload of interesting, relevant evidence of a correlation between certain viruses and fat.

Plus, the article actually expresses some doubt that the "hook" was the cause (it was not a hook, it was a rooster's talon)


You're doing exactly what you claim they're doing -- misrepresenting the article. They're saying there's possibly a virus that can cause obesity, and it might come from chickens. They're not claiming that it causes all obesity, just that it may be a vector.


Virus, really? Would it cause an epidemic in so-called third world?

Or is it a social virus, which has something to do with habits, social norms, junk food and lifestyle of over-consumption?


It did? The US may be the only first world country in the top 20 obese countries.


I know that posting the original title is usually recommended, but shouldn't it be proper etiquette to remove sensationalism and click-baity messages on HN?

"The" is very misleading, so is "Cause Obesity".

Wouldn't "A Mysterious Virus That Could Interfere With Hunger" be much more accurate?


No. One virus made chickens subjected to the virus gain weight when compared to the control group, even though they were fed the same amount. That virus actually very directly causes obesity, and the claim is that there are similar viruses in humans, which we've found correlational data for, but we can't ethically test for it.


Technically, the virus directly causes overeating, not obesity, the title makes it sound like this virus could make you gain more weight for a different reason.

"Cause Obesity" sounds like it is the entire reason behind all of obesity, not just one of the multiple factors.


The article specifically mentions the guy lost minimal weight even during medical interventions when his diet was restricted. He wasnt overeating during those periods.


The article was a bit confusing on the relationship between food, blood work and other health aspects. Diabetes later in life - lack of insulin does not necessarily lead to weight gain - insulin is encouraging cells to store energy after all. Low triglycerides may be result of low fructose diet.

As the weight gain effect can be reproduced in animals I wonder whether there is more animal blood and cell data that could provide clues on the underlying mechanism. I can't imaging they only used a scale to measure the outcome but then the proof is in the pudding.


Well, I don't think implying diabetes (type 2) is a lack of insulin is entirely accurate. The problem is insulin resistance in cells, because they're saturated with insulin, where they mostly stop responding to insulin. Which then results in the pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin to lower blood glucose. It's like a deaf person saying the music isn't loud enough -- the volume is fine, their ears are just shot. You can make the music louder (inject insulin), but their ears will just get worse. When you have that much insulin in your system though, you're definitely not losing weight -- because the cells are saturated with insulin they're definitely not in fat burning mode.


But you clearly cannot eat at a deficit and gain weight. A virus cannot directly make you gain mass.


Like others mentioned, your body can allocate energy in a variety of ways depending on hormones. If you're at a caloric deficit, your body can do things like: reduce heat production, reduce energy available for activities, reduce metabolism, reduce production of proteins for hair/fingernails, etc. There's no hard requirement it burns fat. That's what healthy bodies do of course, but metabolic syndrome is where that entire system doesn't work.


This is not a topic I'm an expert on, I was originally just annoyed with the way the article title was worded, but those claims seem pretty wild. Do you have anything to back those up?

> reduce heat production

Then what? It only takes a few hundred kcals of lesser heat production to reduce an adult body a few degrees, which would cause severe hypothermia.

> there's no hard requirement it burns fat

To what extent? Are you saying he would die of starvation before losing significant weight?


> But you clearly cannot eat at a deficit and gain weight.

You can't without limit, obviously, but since muscle has a much lower per-pound energy content than fat, it's quite possible to eat at a deficit and gain weight while decreasing body fat %.

But, more to the point, a virus can affect, what and how much you are inclined to eat, how efficiently or not your body absorbs nutrients, and a number of other factors which influence whether or not you experience a deficit in the first place.


You're mistaking weight for density.

You can't create mass out of nowhere. If you transform fat into muscle, you still have the same amount of the same atoms, and thus weight the same.


> You're mistaking weight for density

No, I'm not.

> You can't create mass out of nowhere.

Calories measure energy content, not mass.

> If you transform fat into muscle, you still have the same amount of the same atoms

No, you don't.

> and thus weight the same.

Yes, if you trade one pound of fat for one pound of muscle, weight is the same. But since fat has an energy content around 3500kcal/pound and muscle is, IIRC, around 750kcal/pound, that corresponds to more than a 2500kcal calorie deficit with no weight change.


> it's quite possible to eat at a deficit and gain weight

> since fat has an energy content around 3500kcal/pound and muscle is, IIRC, around 750kcal/pound, that corresponds to more than a 2500kcal calorie deficit with no weight change

Feel free to ask a friend with chemistry or physics background why this is completely wrong and goes against everything we know about matter and energy.


> But you clearly cannot eat at a deficit and gain weight.

This is just question-begging. The proposed mechanism is that the virus alters what a deficit is.


And I think that's a very distinctly different thing from "directly causes obesity".


When people say "directly causes obesity", they don't mean it's a magic spell that reverses thermodynamics. Something that stops a large amount of calories from being burned and turns them into fat reserves deserves the title of "directly causes obesity".


So why aren't people in hot countries all obese?


Why would they be? Human metabolism evolved for hot climate after all. So, the body can regulate itself. Unless it's infected by a virus, which alters this regulation. And, unlike you imply, living in a hot country does not shift your energy usage towards fat creation like the virus does.


In the same way that a lit match tossed into a building doesn't "directly cause a fire" because it's actually a series of chemical reactions that cause the fire, I suppose that's correct.


The energy can be used in a variety of ways. So yes, of course the same exact caloric intake can have different effects, depending on what exactly your body does with the energy.


No, but a virus could change your appetite, your body's allocation of energy from lean mass to fat mass, or alter your overall metabolism. Or any combination of those.


Frankly that title would be worse -- you're directly editorializing with the "could interfere with hunger." You don't know that this guy's problem was overeating, you're just assuming.


You're on the right track. The guidelines do ask to keep the original title—except when it is misleading or linkbait, in which case they ask you not to keep the original title.

This one should clearly be changed. What to change it to is not as clear. We've given it a shot.




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