Our childhood diet affects adult health, according to a new study on mice. A recent study conducted at the University of California Riverside shows that our childhood diet has lifelong impact. The study found that the effects of unhealthy food followed young mice into adulthood.

It’s important to pay attention to what your children are eating since this study shows that eating too much fat and sugar as a child can alter your gut microbiome for life. This is the case even if you later learn to eat healthier.

Childhood Diet Affects Adult Health

According to a recent study, your childhood diet affects adult health. This study of mice demonstrates that a high-fat, high-sugar diet had lasting effects on gut bacteria, and the same may be true for humans.

The study by UC Riverside researchers is one of the first to show a significant decrease in the total number and diversity of gut bacteria in mature mice fed an unhealthy diet as juveniles.

According to UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland, “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.”

A paper describing the study has recently been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

The gut microbiome refers to all the bacteria as well as fungi, parasites, and viruses that live on and inside a human or animal. Most of these microorganisms are found in the intestines, and most of them are helpful, stimulating the immune system, breaking down food and helping synthesize key vitamins.

In a healthy body, there is a balance of pathogenic and beneficial organisms. However, if the balance is disturbed, either through the use of antibiotics, illness, or unhealthy diet, the body could become susceptible to disease.

How Study Was Conducted

Garland’s team was looking for impacts on the gut bacteria:

• The mice were divided into four groups: (1) half fed the standard, ‘healthy’ diet, (2) half fed the less healthy ‘Western’ diet, (3) half with access to a running wheel for exercise, and (4) half without.

• After three weeks spent on these diets, all mice were returned to a standard diet and no exercise, which is normally how mice are kept in a laboratory.


• At the 14-week mark, the team examined the diversity and abundance of bacteria in the animals.

Study Findings

• They found that the quantity of healthy bacteria was significantly reduced in the Western diet group. This type of bacteria is involved in carbohydrate metabolism.

• Analysis also showed that the gut bacteria are sensitive to the amount of exercise the mice got.

• Healthy 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.

Overall, the UCR researchers found that early-life Western diet had more long-lasting effects on the microbiome than did early-life exercise.

Garland’s team would like to repeat this experiment and take samples at additional points in time, to better understand when the changes in mouse microbiomes first appear, and whether they extend into even later phases of life.

Regardless of when the effects first appear, however, the researchers say it’s significant that they were observed so long after changing the diet, and then changing it back.

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

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