Chickens are special to Michigan-based Prof Nikhil Dhurandhar. For, it was a viral infection among chickens that led to his breakthrough research that obesity is, at times, triggered by a virus.

Interestingly, the man who gave the world the “you could be fat because of a virus” theory is a Vile Parle lad. He first proved the virus-obesity link in a laboratory in UDCT, Matunga, for his doctoral thesis in the early nine-ties — predictably, using chickens as guinea pigs.

“Obesity has many reasons, from genes to metabolism to hormones, but we want to draw attention to the fact that certain viral infections could also lead to obesity,” says Dhurandhar, who is in the city to talk about his theory at a conference on obesity. “Nobody pokes fun at chronically ill patients, but an obese person is butt of many jokes. The belief is that he is fat because he can’t keep away from the dinner table. Nobody is ready to consider that it could be a disease.”

He recently received a grant from the prestigious National Institute of Health to research on “infectobesity” as the field is being called.

Worldwide, seven viruses have been identified for causing obesity in animals (“we can’t infect people with this virus to prove the theory”), though research has established that human beings too are similarly affected. Three viruses were identified by Dhurandhar’s team in Wayne State University at Michigan.

Even in Mumbai, researchers are now working on creating a database of children, who after typically being ill for the first five years of their lives, start becoming obese thereafter, says endocrinologist Dr Shashank Joshi, associate professor at Grant Medical College and J J Hospital.

Here too, it is the virus theory that is being explored. Says Joshi, “I have been seeing many children, who after respiratory ailments in the first five years, start putting on weight thereafter.” Researchers are only taking Dhurandhar’s theory further: Are the viruses that cause respiratory ailments in childhood linked to weight gain thereafter?

More here.