Gut microbiota at infancy predict risk of obesity in later life

Researchers have provided further evidence to support the link between the gut microbiota at infancy and the risk of becoming overweight or obese in later life.  

Intestine - By Christoph BurgstedtImage Credit: Christoph Burgstedt / Shutterstock

As reported in the journal mBio, the study found that the composition of the gut microbiota at age 2 is associated with body mass index (BMI) at age 12.

Furthermore, a higher BMI at age 2 was not associated with an increased risk of overweight or obesity, suggesting that the make-up of the gut microbiota may be the earliest indicator of obesity risk.

If our findings can be confirmed by other studies, the gut microbiota might play an important part of the obesity prediction algorithm, 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."

Dr. Maggie Stanislawski, Lead Author

Prior research has provided a growing body of evidence that the gut microbiota is involved in the development of obesity, with some studies indicating that the role it plays may be causal.

To investigate, Stanislawski and colleagues collaborated with leader of the Norwegian Microbiota Study (NoMIC), Meret Eggesbø, and analyzed BMI data available for 165 children aged 12 years.

The NoMIC, which was started in 2002, is one of the earliest cohorts to collect data on early life gut microbiota and includes approximately 550 children who are now in their teens.

Stanislawski and team compared the children’s BMI at age 12 with gut microbiota samples at day 4, day 10, one month, four months, one year and two years.

They then performed rRNA gene sequencing to ascertain whether there were specific taxa that were predictive of later BMI at each of the six time points.

The study revealed that at the early time points, there was a relationship between gut microbiota taxa and BMI later in life, but this association grew much stronger as the children got older.

"At one year, it was stronger than the earlier time points. At two years, it was the strongest,” said Stanislawski.

The team found this interesting since there was no obvious phenotype at two years that could be associated with the children’s likelihood of becoming obese.

Children who became obese later did not have significantly higher BMI scores at age 2.

Stanislawski says the findings suggest that the gut microbiota phenotype was present prior to any obvious sign of overweight or obesity:

Since the gut microbiota is influenced by diet, this association could also reflect dietary choices that are precursors to obesity."

Dr. Maggie Stanislawski, Lead Author

Studies of other cohorts are needed, but Stanislawski says that if the results can be replicated, it may lead to a new tool for identifying children who are at risk of becoming obese.

"It is better to identify at-risk kids early. It is easier to prevent obesity than to reverse it," she concludes.

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