Is the Modern Western Diet Doing More Harm to our Children?

A recent study compared a group of children from Africa, who ate a mainly vegetarian diet and were breastfed for up to 2 years, with a group of children from Europe who ate a typical Western diet. What they found was how the children ate drastically affected their stomach bacteria.

The researchers compared children from one African village with those from one European town, looking at their typical diets and what types of bacteria grew within their stomachs. The children eating the typical Western diet, had more bad bacteria growing in their guts, the kind of bacteria that has been linked to obesity and allergies.

“The problem is we eat too much cheap, convenient food because it’s our lifestyle and that can contribute to allergies,” added Marianne Grant, a registered dietitian and health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi.

Having good bacteria in the stomach can help people digest and process the food their eat more easily. This can lower their chances of obesity and food allergies. This dependence on bacteria has already faced many changed during human evolution, such as at the beginning of agriculture and the recent development of antibiotics. The more recent changes in how many people in the world eat, with a prevalence on processed foods, may be attributed to the rise of allergic and autoimmune conditions.

The researchers from the University of Florence, Italy, studied children ages 1 – 6 years who had not taken antibiotics or probiotics for the previous six months. They chose a rural village in Africa that lived on a diet close to what Neolithic humans would have eaten. Their typical diet was cereals, legumes and vegetables with little meat protein. These children were compared to children in Italy of the same age. The Italian children ate much more sugar, fat and meat, and have an overall daily calorie rate nearly twice what the African children ate.

“The [new study] didn’t shed a lot of new, new light, but it definitely verified that a difference in colonization is associated with a low-fat, low-sugar, lower-designer-food-type diet,” Ciani said.

“Our bodies are still stuck in hunter/gatherer day. We’re supposed to be eating more fruits and vegetables and we should be doing a lot of physical activity to compensate,” added Grant. “I tell people that if you want fried chicken now, you go to the drive-through and get it. If you wanted fried chicken then, you had to hunt, find the chicken, kill it, bring it back, pluck its feathers, clean out the innards and cook it. And if you wanted it fried, you had to have ground your own flour.”

This is not the first study to show the importance of gut bacteria on overall health. Previous studies have found that the bacteria found in infants can predict whether or not they have a higher risk of obesity later in life. A more natural diet that focuses more on fruits and vegetables, as well as long term breastfeeding for infants and toddlers, can help encourage the healthy bacteria we need to flourish. – Summer, staff writer

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About the author


Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

1 Comment

  • The problem with food these days is that it is far too easy to go to a fast food restaurant and be served and out of the door within 2 minutes. We should really take our time and sit down and make eating something fun where we can talk about things and get together, rather than something we have to do. I’m in the UK and our country’s typical diet is not the best but its not the worst. There is a big push within schools and sports clubs to get the kids to eat healthy as obesity is growing.

    I know that Italians eat pretty healthy compared to most countries, so it would be interesting to find out what bacteria are in the stomachs of children of other nationalities.

    Good topic!


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