Health In Focus
  • Obese children and teenagers have different gut microflora
  • Eight groups of gut microflora are linked to the amount of fat in the body
  • Out of the eight groups, microbial communities in four groups were high and the other four were low
  • Obese children tended to have higher levels of short chain fatty acids in the blood

Microorganisms living in the gastrointestinal tract are called as gut microbiota or gut microflora. Gut microflora performs specific functions that improve the ability to digest, absorb and eliminate the foods consumed. A new study has found that obese children and teenagers have different gut microflora than their lean counterparts. The study conducted by researchers from Yale University is the first to find a connection between gut microflora and fat distribution in children and teenagers.

Link Between Gut Microbiota and Body Fat in Children and Teenagers
Gut Microbiota in Obese Teens Differ from Normal Weight Peers

The researchers examined the gut microflora and body weight in 84 children and teenagers between the ages of seven and 20 years. Twenty-seven participants were obese, 35 were severely obese, seven were overweight and 15 were normal weight. Gut microflora of the participants' was analyzed. Body fat partitioning measured using MRI and blood samples were collected. The participants' food intake was assessed with a three-day food diary.

The findings showed that eight groups of gut microflora were linked to the amount of body fat. In obese children and teenagers, four microbial communities tended to flourish compared to the lean counterparts. Other four microbial communities were in smaller amounts in participants who were obese compared to children and teenagers of normal weight. The gut microflora found in obese participants digested carbohydrates more efficiently than the gut microflora in normal-weight counterparts. The researchers also found that obese children tended to have higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the blood than normal weight children. The study found an association between short-chain fatty acids produced by some types of gut bacteria and production of fat in the liver. Thus, targeted modifications to the specific species of bacteria could help prevent or treat obesity in the future.

Obesity among children and teenagers is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. About 17 percent of the children and teens in the United States are obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Our findings show children and teenagers with obesity have a different composition of gut flora than lean youth," said the study's senior author, Nicola Santoro, MD, PhD, Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. "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."

Short-chain fatty acids are converted to fat within the liver and then accumulate in the fat tissue, said Santoro. "This association could signal that children with certain gut bacteria face a long-term risk of developing obesity."

Other Studies Linking Gut Microbiota and Obesity

Studies conducted previously have linked obesity to changes in gut microbial composition and physiology. According to a study published in the journal Nature, (2009), obesity is associated with phylum-level changes in the microbiota, reduced bacterial diversity and altered representation of bacterial genes and metabolic pathways.

A study published in Molecular Metabolism, (2016), showed that changes in gut microflora composition contribute to obesity by affecting the production of satiety-inducing signals. Restoring gut microbial homeostasis by consuming probiotics, therapeutic microbes and certain fibers could prevent or treat obesity.

Another study published in Environmental Microbiology, (2016), found that childhood obesity was associated with an altered microflora characterized by higher levels of Firmicutes and lower levels of Bacteroidetes. Short-chain fatty acids are metabolites produced by gut bacteria, which was higher in obese children, suggesting a strong link between microbiota and obesity.

The study, "Role of Gut Microbiota and Short Chain Fatty Acids in Modulating Energy Harvest and Fat Partitioning in Youth," is published int the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Reference :
  1. Childhood Overweight and Obesity - (
Source: Medindia

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