A swab of a toddler’s mouth may predict their odds of growing into obese children, a new study suggests.
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University discovered that the harmless microorganisms living in a two-year-old’s mouth were less diverse if they had gained more weight more quickly than most since birth.
The mouth is part of the digestive tract, and the recent surge in gut microbiome research has revealed that diverse microbes indicate healthy digestion and diet.
With their new discovery, the researchers hope that an oral swab could be a painless test to predict childhood obesity risks, allowing doctors and parents to create health diet and exercise plans early.
Bacteria picked up on a simple mouth swab may predict a toddler’s risk of becoming an obese child, a new study suggests
About one in three children in the US is either overweight obese.
These children are far more likely to be obese adults, and obese adults are at higher risk for life-threatening diseases, including diabetes, many cancers and heart disease.
Equally, children who exercise and eat healthily starting at a young age tend to grow into adults who do the same.
Catching a disease or health concern early – or better yet, intervening before it develops – is the best way to ensure proper treatment and obesity is no different.
Now, we may have a way to do just that.
The more we discover about the gut microbiome, the more it seems to be a window into much of our health.
Scientists suggest that like any other biome, or environment, a diverse microbiome is more resilient to disruption.
‘A healthy person usually has a lot of different bacteria within their gut microbiota,’ said the new study’s author Dr Sarah Craig.
‘This high diversity helps protect against inflammation or harmful bacteria and is important for the stability of digestion in the face of changes to diet or environment.’
It isn’t entirely clear why, but feeding ourselves – and therefore our gut bacteria – a more diverse diet, high in fiber and vegetables will also make for a more diverse microbiome.
Western diets are often lacking in both these types of foods. Instead, they tend to be high in carbohydrates and fats.
The result is fatter people and simpler microbiomes.
When Dr Craig and her team swabbed the mouths of 226 two-year-olds, they found a strong link between the children that had put on weight quickly after birth – predictor of continued weight-gain in childhood – and simpler, less diverse bacteria populations.
‘Our results suggest that signatures of obesity may be established earlier in oral microbiota than in gut microbiota,’ said Dr Craig.
‘If we can confirm this in other groups of children outside of Pennsylvania, we may be able to develop a test of oral microbiota that could be used in clinical care to identify children who are at risk for developing obesity.’
A simple mouth swab would be a far easier – and neater – test of children’s gut health than collecting fecal samples, she added.