What Your Gut Tells You

There has been a long association between lower incomes and overweight/obesity.

It makes sense that access to safe built environment; access to healthy foods, and social factors that influence healthy eating and active living will likely result in healthier lifestyles. Therefore it wasn’t surprising to me to hear the recent improvement rates of teen obesity were concentrated in higher income families.

The 2010 National Survey on Children’s Health showed that 26 percent of kids whose parents have at the most a high school education were obese compared to 7 percent of those with parents who have at least a four-year college degree.

According to the study by Dr. Carl Frederick of Harvard University, up until 2002, obesity rates for all teens rose at similar rates. However, after 2002, they found that a class gap appeared that became wider with each subsequent year. While rates dropped in higher income teens, they continued to rise among teens with lower socioeconomic status.

During this same time, there has also been a burgeoning science of the microbiome or the bacteria that live in the gut. These friendly microbes help to process food and protect the inside of the intestine. Over the last several years, it has become apparent that they also are chemically active and influence other aspects of health.

We’ve learned that everyone’s mixture of bacteria is unique, it differs from person to person, like fingerprints. But science discoveries often lead to more questions. And I can’t help but wonder how or if a person’s external environment contributes to this unique mixture.

I wonder if the bacteria differ based on the person’s income? Is that microbiota influenced by the intersection of food choices, amounts of exercise, stress hormones, and environmental exposures? Will the activity of this mix of bacteria in our guts turn out to influence the insulin regulatory system of the body, leading to a difference in the way we process calories?

It’s a fascinating intersection of environmental influence and biology.

There is no doubt that we will find that the relationship between poverty and health are complex and multifactorial but not insurmountable with dedicated and creative approaches.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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