An increasing number of studies over at least the past decade have shown, without a doubt, that our gut microbiota influences health and disease. More recently, researchers have started to focus on early life, analyzing the role that gut microbiota plays in the development of metabolic and autoimmune disorders later in life.

One recent study in this regard showed infant gut microbiota could be used as a biomarker to identify the children who are at risk of becoming overweight and obese later in childhood. That study, published in mBio and led by researchers at Colorado University (USA), concludes that gut microbiota composition at 2 years of age can be used as a predictor for obesity at age 12. Although toddlers may not be overweight or obese, the research identified a correlation between their gut microbiota composition at early stages and their body mass index (BMI) at 12. Interestingly, at 2 years of age, BMI in children who later became obese was not significantly higher than that of other children.

According to the authors, this finding suggests that gut microbiota composition may be the earliest warning sign for detecting obesity risk.

Since the gut microbiota is influenced by diet, this association could also reflect dietary choices that are precursors to obesity,” said lead author Maggie Stanislawski, PhD, who is a research associate at the LEAD Center, which is part of the Colorado School of Public Health (USA).

“If our findings can be confirmed by other studies, the gut microbiota might play an important part of the obesity prediction algorithm. It could help to identify at-risk kids early in life, before they start to gain any excess weight that might put them at risk for later obesity,” she added.

The researchers based their study on a cohort named NoMic, launched in 2002 by the Norwegian Public Health Institute in Oslo, as one of the first to analyze gut microbiota in early life. NoMic is a Norwegian Microbiota study exploring gut microbiota in infancy and how it develops through childhood. It is made up of 550 subjects who started out as children and who are now teenagers. The researchers observed that at 12 years of age, 20% of the children taking part in the study were overweight or obese.

Although these results need to be replicated and confirmed in other cohorts before being applicable—because that is how science works—if they are confirmed, they may lead to the development of a new tool to identify the children at risk of developing obesity, which is a serious, large-scale global health problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, over 41 million children under the age of five were overweight worldwide. And it is known that overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood, with the subsequent increased risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It makes sense, therefore, to consider Stanislawski’s words when she says “It is easier to prevent obesity than to reverse it.”

 

Regerence:

Stanislawski MA, Dabelea D, Wagner BD, et al. Gut microbiota in the first 2 years of life and the association with body mass index at age 12 in a Norwegian birth cohortmBio. 2018; 9:e01751-18. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01751-18.

Cristina Sáez
Cristina Sáez
Cristina Saez is a freelance science journalist. She works for several media, for instance the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, where she coordinates the science section, Big Vang; as well as research centres and scientific societies. She has been awarded for her journalistic work, among others, with the Boehringer Ingelheim Award in Medical Journalism 2015. Follow Cristina on Twitter @saez_cristina