Gut microbes differ in obese, lean children

(Credit: Getty Images)

Obese children and teens have different bacteria living in their digestive tracts than those who are lean. The findings could lead to strategies to target specific gut microbes to prevent or treat obesity in youth.

The rate of childhood obesity has increased in recent decades, and currently affects 17 percent of children and teens nationwide. Previous research has revealed a link between obesity and differences in the gut bacteria of adults, but little is known about the role of these microbes in childhood obesity.

For a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers examined gut bacteria and weight in 84 children and teens ranging in size from severely obese to normal weight. They also measured body fat distribution, took blood samples, and asked participants to keep food diaries.

The results identified eight groups of gut bacteria that were associated with the amount of fat in the body. These microbial groups were more common in obese children and teens compared to their normal-weight peers and were also more efficient at digesting carbohydrates, which in turn could lead to an increased production of fats.

No clear link between gut bacteria and obesity

“Our findings show children and teenagers with obesity have a different composition of gut flora than lean youth,” says Nicola Santoro, an associate research scientist in pediatrics at Yale University. “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.”

In addition, obese youth were more likely to have higher levels of short chain fatty acids, a type of fat produced by some gut bacteria, and probably linked with the production of fat in the liver.

“Our research suggests that short chain fatty acids may be converted to fat within the liver and then accumulate in the fat tissue,” Santoro says. “This association could signal that children with certain gut bacteria face a long-term risk of developing obesity.”

The American Heart Association, the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, the Allen Foundation Inc., and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded the work.

Source: Yale University