Changes in Weight Status and the Intestinal Microbiota among College Students

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The transition to college has been identified as a vulnerable period for weight gain and the onset of obesity. Research has shown that the gut microbiota is different in obese compared to lean individuals, but a period of weight gain

The transition to college has been identified as a vulnerable period for weight gain and the onset of obesity. Research has shown that the gut microbiota is different in obese compared to lean individuals, but a period of weight gain has never been studied in free-living individuals. The objective of this longitudinal, observational study was to assess the association between changes in the intestinal microbiota and weight-related outcomes in healthy college students living in on-campus dormitories at Arizona State University (n=39). Anthropometric measures and fecal samples were collected at the beginning and end of the school year, and microbial relative abundance for A. muciniphila, F. prausnitzii, R. gnavus, and L. acidophilus was measured through qPCR analyses. In this population, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) increased by 0.97 ± 1.28 kg/m2 and 2.64 ± 4.90 cm, respectively. Wilcoxon-Rank tests revealed that R. gnavus fold change was significantly different between groups of weight loss/maintenance and weight gain ≥ 5% body weight (0.14 [-0.21, 0.64], n=24 vs. -0.14 [-0.92, 0.05], n=15, respectively; p=0.028). Correlation analyses suggested a significant negative association between A. muciniphila fold change and both % WC change and % BMI change (r= -0.66; p<0.01 and r= -0.33; p=0.04, respectively). However, multivariate regression analysis controlling for sex and race/ethnicity showed a significant association between A. muciniphila and % WC change, but not % BMI change (R2= 0.53; p<0.01 and R2= 0.24; p=0.15). F. prausnitzii was not associated with weight-related outcomes in this sample. L. acidophilus was excluded from study analyses after subsequent qPCR trials revealed no amplification in participant samples. Overall, this was the first study to show a relationship between A. muciniphila fold change and weight-related outcomes over a period of weight gain. Specifically, A. muciniphila was strongly negatively associated with WC in this sample. Further research is needed to more accurately describe these associations and potential mechanisms associated with the shift in gut microbiota observed with weight gain. Findings from future research may be used to develop interventions for college students aiming to shift the gut microbiota to prevent weight gain.