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Here’s yet another reason to get the kids in our lives eating healthier, earlier. We all know that developing healthy eating habits early is essential. But it may be more pivotal than we initially thought. A new study in mice by the University of California Riverside suggests that overeating fat and sugar as a child can alter your microbiome for life, even if you eat healthier later in life.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, shows a significant decrease in the total number and diversity of gut bacteria in mature mice fed an unhealthy diet as juveniles.

UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland explained, “We studied mice, but the effect we observed is equivalent to kids having a Western diet, high in fat and sugar and their gut microbiome still being affected up to six years after puberty.”

For this study, Garland’s team looked for impacts on the microbiome after dividing their mice into four groups: half fed the standard, ‘healthy’ diet, half fed the less healthy ‘Western’ diet, half with access to a running wheel for exercise, and half without. 

All of the mice were returned to a standard diet with no exercise (which is typical for a lab mouse) after three weeks on their respective diets. The team analyzed the gut bacteria of the mice at the 14 -week mark. 

In the Western diet group, they found that the quantity of bacteria such as Muribaculum intestinale, which is involved in carbohydrate metabolism, was significantly reduced.  

Their analysis also showed that the gut bacteria are sensitive to the amount of exercise the mice got. Muribaculum bacteria increased in mice fed a standard diet who had access to a running wheel and decreased in mice on a high-fat diet whether they had exercise or not.

Ultimately, the researchers found that early-life Western diet had more long-lasting effects on the microbiome than early-life exercise. They said that they would like to repeat this experiment and take samples at additional points to better understand when the changes in mouse microbiomes first appear and whether they extend into even later phases of life. 

The team said it’s significant that the effects were observed so long after changing the diet and then changing it back, regardless of when they first appeared. 

The takeaway, Garland said, is, “You are not only what you eat, but what you ate as a child!”

Let’s get our kids started on the right track!