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Microbes weigh in on obesity

4:01pm, April 1, 2008

Overweight children host intestinal bacteria as babies that are different from those hosted by other kids, a new study finds. The results, which suggest that some gut microbes may protect against developing obesity, could lead to new approaches for managing unhealthy weight gain in childhood.

Infants receive their first dose of microbes from mom during birth, and that bacterial population is reinforced during breast-feeding. Bifidobacterium, a genus of branched, rod-shaped microbes, dominates the guts of healthy, breast-fed infants, and the bacteria's presence has been linked to a well-functioning immune system. (Previous research had correlated breast-feeding with a reduced likelihood of childhood obesity, hinting at a more direct link between mom's milk and weight development.)

A new study from the University of Turku in Finland of 25 overweight or obese 7-year-olds and 24 healthy 7-year-olds compared the intestinal microbes the children had hosted as infants

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