Baby Eyes

A Gut Instinct for Finding Childhood Obesity

At the age of 2, it’s not especially obvious if a child will have obesity later in life. But a new study, published in mBio, suggests that the microbes in a child’s gut at age 2 might offer some pretty good clues.

Microbiota Explaining More Than Half of BMI Scores

Maggie Stanislawski and colleagues analyzed data from a prospective cohort of 165 Norwegian children. They profiled the microbiota from these children at six time points between birth and age two. And then they looked at BMI z-scores at age 12. What they found was striking. Microbiota at age two could explain more than 50 percent of the variation in BMI at age 12. Stanislawski says:

We found this very interesting because, at two years, there wasn’t any obvious phenotype in terms of whether or not the kids were going to become obese. Kids who became obese later in life didn’t have high BMI scores at age 2.

The findings suggest that the gut microbiota phenotype was present before any overt sign of overweight or obesity. Since diet influences the gut microbiota, this association could also reflect dietary choices that are precursors to obesity.

A Good Starting Point for Further Research

Do we need to say it? We need more research to really understand the importance of this finding. This was a relatively small sample of children. And they were all ethnic Norwegians in Norway. So no diversity.

Microbiomes can vary with ethnicity and geography. Are these findings just a quirk of this sample? Or will a similar pattern show up in much more diverse and robust samples? Further research can tell a fuller story. But this study certainly offers a fascinating clue.

Click here for the study in mBio and here for more perspective from Food Navigator USA. For further information on gut microbes and childhood obesity, click here.

Baby Eyes, photograph © Zachary Appel / flickr

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October 26, 2018