A 2015 study published by the American Society of Microbiology revealed there are other factors besides what we eat that can predict a city’s health – turns out what comes out of our digestive tracts is pretty important too! At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, scientists discovered that microbial contents in sewage are almost 90% accurate in predicting city obesity rates. This isn’t news to Ryan Newton, a professor at UWM, who says that studies show that imbalance in our gut bacteria (a condition called dysbiosis) can lead to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes. In fact, overweight individuals have very different gut microbes than their lean counterparts.
Using what they know about gut microbes in obese versus lean individuals, researchers at UWM analyzed sewage data and found distinct patterns of microbial prevalence in certain areas. They were then able to figure out obesity rates based on the gut flora observed, which confirms what other scientists have discovered: obesity, as well as diabetes and other obesity-associated diseases, are strongly linked to gut bacteria. In fact, it’s now clear that our individual metabolic profiles are very much a reflection of which specific microbes take up residence in our gut, and one of the most critical steps in treating obesity and its related conditions is restoring the gut microbiome.
Rehabbing our microbes through public health efforts is exactly what scientists at UWM hope to do with their findings. Using their sewage data and other ongoing study results, they plan to target specific neighborhoods with microbe boosting nutrition advice, like cutting down on sugar and adding in more vegetable fiber – a worthwhile endeavor, considering we’re not just what we eat; we’re what we feed our gut microbes!
By: Dr. Robynne Chutkan