Is obesity contagious?

Obesity May Be Contagious: Gut Bacteria Spores Can Travel Via The Air To Healthy Individuals, Study Suggests

A new study performed by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute suggests that some forms of obesity may actually be contagious. Imbalance in the gut microbe system can cause a series of negative health effects including obesity. With certain types of bacteria wreaking havoc on the microbe balance, it was revealed that people with certain bacteria present in their guts are more prone to obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and even some allergies. The bacteria spores causing these ill-health effects can also, according to the research, be spread through the air as the spores have the ability to survive outside of the body and eventually could be ingested by a healthy host.

The Daily Mail reports that researchers at Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that some bacteria known to cause obesity may be contagious. The bad gut bacteria was found to have the ability to survive outside of the body and could potentially survive long enough to be ingested by a healthy host. Once ingested into the previously health individual’s body, the bacteria could spread and cause the patient’s gut microbe system to become out of balance which can lead to a whole host of medical problems including obesity.

obesity effects memory
Obesity may be contagious according to the latest study by Sanger Institute.
[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]
The study found that certain forms of bacteria in the gut of infected patients form spores which allow the bacteria to remain dormant for an extended period of time. These spores can then be released into the surrounding environment and eventually make their way into the air. Once in the air, a healthy individual without the bacteria in their gut could unknowingly ingest the bacteria spore which would then make its way to the new host’s gut.

Once inside the gut, the bacteria may begin to thrive and cause imbalance in the gut microbe system which could lead to poor health outcomes. Dr. Trevor Lawley, group leader at the Sanger Institute, notes that the new research on the ability for these bacteria spores to live outside the body is important because the gut has become a “forgotten organ” in regard to overall patient health. Lawley says that “being able to cast light on this microbial ‘dark matter’ has implications for the whole of biology and how we consider health.”

Lawley’s fellow researcher, Hilary Browne, agrees, noting that the gut plays a larger role in overall health than previously believed.

“It has become increasingly evident that microbial communities play a large role in human health and disease.”

If the research proves accurate, it will reshape how we look at a wide variety of health issues such as obesity. Prior to the latest research, it was believed that most of these issues were passed through human genetics. However, the new study “could imply that health and certain diseases could be passed via the microbiome.”

This isn’t the first study to suggest that certain forms of obesity may be passed to others. Back in 2007, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that obesity may be contagious as it appeared to spread from person to person. However, that study suggested that obesity was not traveling through the air via bacteria spores but rather was psychological as friends of obese individuals were more likely to gain weight as they began to change their negative perception of the condition. The lead study researcher noted that people “change their idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around them.” This means that if a friend becomes obese and it is accepted by the friend group, it can cause others in the friendship circle to also gain weight as they no longer view the obesity negatively.

Do sugary drinks cause obesity?
Could obesity caused by imbalanced gut bacteria be spread through the air via bacteria spores? [Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
What do you think about the latest research suggesting that obesity may be contagious via gut bacteria spores in the environment? What about the 2007 study suggesting that obesity is contagious through psychological means?

[Image via Shutterstock]

Comments