Childhood Obesity and Gut Bacteria

Childhood obesity has been an emotionally charged, near panic-inducing topic in the US and beyond for decades. New programs are repeatedly thrown at the issue in the hopes of “stemming the tide” of childhood obesity. Public policy on the issue has committed tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.

In the media, in schools and even in doctors offices, children and parents are being “educated” about how to prevent their kids from getting fat. Nutrition resources, exercise programs, new and improved PE programs in schools and even flat-out scare tactics have all failed in monumental fashion.

Our kids are still getting fat. They’re still growing into fat adults. All of us are paying the price, literally and figuratively, for our failures.

But what if the problem really begins on the inside? Some scientists now believe that it’s the interaction between gut bacteria, or the microbiome, and immune cells and fat tissue and other metabolic organs, that play a crucial role in childhood obesity.

Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are stating exactly that in the current issue of Obesity Reviews. They believe the key to understanding, and eventually providing effective solutions for, childhood obesity can be found in the microbiome. They also think lifestyle may have a huge impact on the relationships in question.

“The medical community used to think that obesity was a result of consuming too many calories. However, a series of studies over the past decade has confirmed that the microbes living in our gut are not only associated with obesity but also are one of the causes,” said Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the review.

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Since the 1970’s, the percentage of American children who are obese has more than tripled, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control. Prospects for the future don’t look promising, either. Among school-aged kids, obesity is increasing at an alarming 2.3% rate per year. As the current generation of kids becomes the next generation of adults, they are likely to do so as fat, unhealthy humans, according to the folks at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Yadav reviews existing animal and human studies about the methods of interaction between immune cells and the gut microbiome. He also found that these interactions can be transferred from mother to baby as early as the gestation period, contributing to childhood obesity.

He describes how things like the health of the mother, along with exercise and activity levels, diet, antibiotic use, feeding method (breast milk or formula) and birth method (natural or cesarean) influence the risk of obesity in children.

“This compilation of current research should be very useful for doctors, nutritionists and dietitians to discuss with their patients because so many of these factors can be changed if people have enough good information,” Yadav said. “We also wanted to identify gaps in the science for future research.”

Yadav and his team believe that the way to stem the tide of childhood obesity lies in understanding the role of gut microbiome in obesity, both for mothers and their children. These insights will allow scientists to design more effective and successful strategies – therapeutic and preventive – with regard to obesity.

So the key to childhood obesity may lie in one of the smallest influencers of an enormous problem. Who knew?

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Halle J. Kincaid, Ravinder Nagpal, Hariom Yadav. Microbiome‐immune‐metabolic axis in the epidemic of childhood obesity: Evidence and opportunities. Obesity Reviews, 2019

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