A study recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that a rural diet might protect children from inflammation and noninfectious colonic disease. Researchers compared the fecal microflora of 14 children ages 1-6 from a rural village in Burkina Faso to that of 15 similarly-aged children in Italy. The children from the village in Burkina Faso, Boulpon, consumed a traditional diet that is low in fat and animal protein, and high in starch and fiber, whereas the Italian children consumed a typically Western diet high in sugar, fat, animal protein, and starch, and low in fiber.
The two populations of children's gut microflora were similar while children were still being breast-fed; the differences grew once they started consuming the local diet. Di Filippo et al. found that the children from Boulpon had roughly twice as many Bacteroidetes species as the Italian children, and that the Italian children had roughly twice as many Firmicutes species as the children from Boulpon. A high ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes has been associated with obesity, potentially indicating that the Western diet of the Italian children predisposes them to future obesity.
The children from Boulpon also had a greater richness and biodiversity of gut microflora, including exclusive possession of a number of species that produce high quantities of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are known to protect against gut inflammation. As expected, the levels of SCFAs themselves in the Burkina Fasoian children were significantly higher than those in the Italian children. Additionally, though the Italian children were healthy, they had a significantly higher level of Enterobacteriaceae that are potentially pathogenic, like Shigella and Escherichia.
The results indicate that a Western diet could allow potentially harmful bacteria to gain a foothold in the gut, and could predispose children to obesity and gut inflammation.
Link to the article’s full text: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/07/14/1005963107.full.pdf