Maternal obesity is associated with alterations in the gut microbiome in toddlers

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113026. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113026. eCollection 2014.


Children born to obese mothers are at increased risk for obesity, but the mechanisms behind this association are not fully delineated. A novel possible pathway linking maternal and child weight is the transmission of obesogenic microbes from mother to child. The current study examined whether maternal obesity was associated with differences in the composition of the gut microbiome in children in early life. Fecal samples from children 18-27 months of age (n = 77) were analyzed by pyro-tag 16S sequencing. Significant effects of maternal obesity on the composition of the gut microbiome of offspring were observed among dyads of higher socioeconomic status (SES). In the higher SES group (n = 47), children of obese (BMI≥30) versus non-obese mothers clustered on a principle coordinate analysis (PCoA) and exhibited greater homogeneity in the composition of their gut microbiomes as well as greater alpha diversity as indicated by the Shannon Diversity Index, and measures of richness and evenness. Also in the higher SES group, children born to obese versus non-obese mothers had differences in abundances of Faecalibacterium spp., Eubacterium spp., Oscillibacter spp., and Blautia spp. Prior studies have linked some of these bacterial groups to differences in weight and diet. This study provides novel evidence that maternal obesity is associated with differences in the gut microbiome in children in early life, particularly among those of higher SES. Among obese adults, the relative contribution of genetic versus behavioral factors may differ based on SES. Consequently, the extent to which maternal obesity confers measureable changes to the gut microbiome of offspring may differ based on the etiology of maternal obesity. Continued research is needed to examine this question as well as the relevance of the observed differences in gut microbiome composition for weight trajectory over the life course.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Metagenome
  • Microbiota*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • Pregnancy*
  • Self Report
  • Socioeconomic Factors