Study: Microbe linked to higher child obesity risk

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Microbe M.smithii linked to childhood obesity risk (Photo @MaastrichtUMC/Twitter). Microbe M.smithii linked to childhood obesity risk (Photo @MaastrichtUMC/Twitter)

Scientists at Maastricht University Medical Center discovered a link between a microorganism in the gastrointestinal tract and the risk of childhood obesity - the larger the number of this microbe present, the greater risk of obesity.

The microbe in question, Methanobrevibacter smithii, M.smithii for short, is part of the Archaea bacteria family - single celled life forms that normally occurs in extreme conditions such as heat, cold or high pressure. These Archaea bacteria are one of the multiple microorganisms that make part of the complex environment in a human's gastrointestinal tract.

For this study, the scientists looked for M.smithii in the stool samples of nearly 500 children between the ages of 6 and 10 years old and found it to be present to a greater or lesser percent in 80 percent of the kids. They then registered the weight and height of the kids over a number of years and found a remarkable relationship.

"The bigger the number of M.smithii in the intestine, the greater the risk of obesity. A chance that can be up to three times as great", Ilja Arts, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology of Chronic Diseases at Maastricht UMC+ said.

Why this microbe leads to a greater chance of childhood obesity, can not be explained as of yet. According to Arts, now that the link is established, the study will be extended to investigating the role of this microbe in the intestinal tract.

"We suspect that obesity is more than just the result of too much food and too little exercise. Other factors, like microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, likely also play a role", Arts said. "also in the eventual complications of obesity. One person for example gets cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and the other does not. We want to know why."

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