Fetal programming of overweight through the microbiome: boys are disproportionately affected

J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2016 Feb;7(1):25-34. doi: 10.1017/S2040174415001269. Epub 2015 Jun 29.


Maternal and childhood obesity in pregnancy are worrisome public health issues facing our world today. New gene sequencing methods have advanced our knowledge of the disruptive effect of birth interventions and postnatal exposures on the maturation of gut microbiota and immunity during infancy. Yet, little is known about the impact of maternal pregnancy overweight on gut microbes and related processes, and how this may affect overweight risk in offspring. To address this gap in knowledge, we surveyed human studies for evidence in children, infants and pregnant women to piece together the limited literature and generate hypotheses for future investigation. From this literature, we learned that higher Lactobacillus yet lower Bacteroides spp. colonization of gut microbiota within 3 months of birth predicted risk for infant and child overweight. The abundance of bifidobacteria and staphylococci also appeared to play a role in the association with overweight, as did infant fecal immunoglobulin A levels, glycoproteins of the gut immune system that are acquired from breast milk and produced by the infant. We proposed that pregnancy overweight influences the compositional structure of gut microbiota in infants through vertical transfer of microbiota and/or their metabolites during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Finally, we brought forward emerging evidence on sex dimorphism, as well as ethnic and geographic variation, in reported associations between maternal overweight-induced gut microbiota dysbiosis and overweight risk.

Keywords: gut; infant; microbiota; overweight; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Development
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Overweight / microbiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / microbiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Sex Characteristics*