Understanding the Microbiome and Malnutrition in Children

7 August 2023by Barış Özdinç

While the world is at the grasp of the global obesity epidemic, childhood malnutrition persists as a pressing issue. 

A recent article published on National Geographic expressing expert opinion on a solution to malnutrition lies beyond providing sufficient calories and may involve the gut microbiome. 

As a result, researchers have developed food supplements to enhance the gut microbial populations of malnourished children, aiming to foster healthy growth and development.


In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated that 149 million children under five were stunted, and 45 million were wasted. Malnutrition-related factors contribute to 45% of deaths in this age group, impeding neurological, cognitive, and physical growth. 

Malnourishment weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections and elevating long-term risks such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers. 

Nutritional status and the gut microbiome begin developing before birth, with a mother’s microbiome playing a significant role. Suboptimal diets or unsanitary conditions impact the child’s gut microbiome, hindering nutrient absorption and causing malnutrition. 

Dysbiosis, characterized by an imbalance in microbial communities, leads to inflammation, impaired gut function, and malnourishment.

Developing microbiota-directed interventions for child malnutrition presents challenges due to the individuality of each person’s microbiome. However, specific beneficial gut bacteria, like Bifidobacterium infantis, show promise for infant gut health. 

Personalized approaches considering the unique microbiome of individuals may be key to effective interventions. Timing is also crucial, as the composition of gut microbiota changes with age, necessitating targeted interventions aligned with the microbiome’s developmental stage.


In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by microbiome scientist Jeffrey Gordon demonstrated that malnourished children in Bangladesh who received a food supplement designed to boost growth-promoting gut microbes experienced significant weight gain and increased height compared to those given a standard supplement. 

This highlights the importance of early microbial colonization in child development and the potential to repair poorly developed microbial communities. 

Building on these findings, a clinical trial is underway in Bangladesh to test the efficacy of shelf-stable prototypes of microbiota-promoting food supplements in children aged eight to 12 months with moderate malnutrition. 

Gordon’s team is also expanding their research to other countries, seeking to replicate positive outcomes and reverse malnutrition. The goal is to develop an effective intervention that may be applied over different ethnicities and age groups.

Experts envision a combined approach involving microbial and dietary interventions to combat childhood malnutrition. The gut microbiome’s adaptability allows it to respond to dietary changes, making diet a powerful mediator of its impact. The intervention of the future may involve synergistic strategies that optimize nutrient absorption and address malnutrition.


In conclusion, by recognizing the crucial role of gut microbes in childhood malnutrition, researchers are forging new paths in intervention. Repairing the gut microbiome to facilitate healthy growth offers hope in tackling childhood malnutrition. 

As scientists explore targeted and personalized approaches, there is an opportunity to transform the lives of malnourished children worldwide and mitigate the long-term health consequences associated with undernutrition.

If you’re looking to carry out your own microbiome research, CosmosID’s state-of-the-art microbiome sequencing services can help. With our advanced software capabilities, you can analyze and compare microbiome data sets to identify patterns in human health and disease.

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Barış Özdinç

Barış Özdinç analyzes microbiome research with his educational background in genetics and evolution. As a research analyst for CosmosID, he combines metagenomics and data analyses to identify microbial biomarkers in disease cohorts and evaluate microbiome research tools. His work involves curating microbiome data and creating interesting microbiome content for newsletters and blog posts. Barış Özdinç received his bachelor’s degree in genetics and master’s degree in biodiversity, evolution, and conservation from University College London (UCL). Currently, he lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where he lives with his cat, Delight, and mentors female students in their STEM career pursuits.