According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, obese children have different kinds of bacteria living in their digestive tracts than leaner children.
Earlier research has shown a link between gut bacteria and obesity in adults. However, little has been known about the role of these microbes in children. This new study, led by Nicola Santoro, M.D., analyzed the gut bacteria and weight of 84 children and teenagers ranging in size from healthy weight to severe obesity.
What they found was that eight groups of gut bacteria were associated with the levels of fat in a child’s body. These specific microbial groups were more prevalent in obese kids than in their peers.
“Our findings show children and teenagers with obesity have a different composition of gut flora than lean youth,” said Santoro. “This suggests that targeted modifications to the specific species composing the human microbiota could be developed and could help to prevent or treat early-onset obesity in the future.”
The obese children were also more likely to have a greater number of short chain fatty acids, which are produced by some gut bacteria, and possibly linked to fat production in the liver.
Santoro determined that “This association could signal that children with certain gut bacteria face a long-term risk of developing obesity.”
The researchers were not able to determine why the bacteria differ in the bodies of obese and lean people, but they speculated that different diets may contribute to the growth of one kind of microbiota or another.
“In our study, we hypothesize that a diet high in carbohydrates might favor the growth of fermenting bacteria and favor accumulation of extra energy,” said Santoro.
She explained that the gut bacteria present in obese youth tended to be better at converting carbohydrates to fat than those found in normal-weight kids. In other words, even if they were to consume the same amount of calories, the obese youth would accumulate more fat because of the composition of their microbiota.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17% of American children and teens are obese. While there are a number of contributing factors, like the fact that only one in three children participates in physical activity every day and many children now spend more than seven and a half hours each day in front of a screen, basic biology and genetics are some of the main causes of obesity among children and adults.