FAT VIRUS: I spent the weekend in bed with a cold. I was musing about my bad luck in catching this virus - I had planned to do several things over the weekend - when I flipped over to the National Geographic channel and happened to catch what I have to admit was a very interesting film on the obesity epidemic.

An Indian research scientist, also a medical doctor specializing in obesity, has been working for the past several years to prove that there is a link between a significant part of the big surge in obesity in the past 25 years and...a virus.

Think about the implications of that. The story about how he came to this conclusion was interesting enough: a deadly chicken virus in India left its feathered victims bloated with fat at the time of death. This is not what you would expect. The virus somehow coaxes "pre-fat" cells into going the whole hog and converting right on into full fat for no reason. What if the same thing happened in humans?

One thing leads to another, and he finds himself in the states on a research grant, having discovered an almost identical virus that affects humans. The specific virus in question was first isolated in 1978. Well before I saw this program I became used to hearing the statistic that the big ballooning of obesity figures in the states dates to about 1980, since which time the rates of serious, over the top obesity in the US have quadrupled. All of the animal tests carried out confirm that a link exists, and blood tests on humans show a clear link in the case of the most obese people. If you've had the virus, the specific anti-bodies to it remain in your blood.

The virology community is not buying it yet. The doubting voices were primarily represented by two dour old British academics who sniffed that they had never heard anything so silly. Exactly the type of sclerotic old farts that make you assume automatically that if they don't believe something, there must be something to it.

One of the proponents of the new theory worries that obese people will suffer even more discrimination if this thinking becomes common currency as people fear "catching" the obese virus. "But an obese person obviously cannot transmit the virus," he said. "The virus has already come and gone, having done its work. The person you should be worried about is that guy with a cold on the bus you took to work this morning."

Whoa, Nellie.

Steve | 12:55 |