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Obesity is a pervasive and potentially lethal public health concern. The concept of energy balance is central to our understanding of obesity: excessive calorie intake combined with minimal physical activity creates a surplus of energy that is stored in the body as fat. This caloric algebra may be accurate, but it is an incomplete description of the obesity problem, leaving many questions unanswered. Why are some individuals more likely than others to become obese? Are factors other than consumption and activity involved? What can be done to prevent or reverse excessive weight gain? Recently, much attention has been focused on the community of bacteria living in our intestines. Results of nutritional and pathological studies suggest that this intestinal microflora may be critically important to our health. For example, some of these bacteria help to provide important nutrients (e.g., vitamin B-12) to their hosts. Coupled with data showing that obese individuals tend to have different intestinal microbial communities than lean individuals, these observations have led scientists to consider the possibility that our gut microflora might directly affect our risk of becoming obese.
Lab Anim. (NY) 41, 142 (2012).
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