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The Past, Present and Future of Metabolic Health

  • “You are what you eat,” the old saying goes. Its meaning — that you must eat healthy to be healthy — is the concept at the core of metabolic health, which considers a person’s diet and its effect on their overall health. Let’s take a brief look at this topic through an examination of historical milestones and statistics.  

    What Is Metabolic Health? 

    Metabolism refers to the body’s process of transforming food into energy. Metabolic health has been defined as having a waist circumference below 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women and blood pressure, glucose, triglyceride and high-density lipid levels measuring within “optimal” ranges without the aid of medication. Though genetic factors can play a role in these conditions, all of them are also connected to the food we eat.  

    Fruits, vegetables and legumes in particular help promote a healthy microbiome, the ecosystem of living things within our digestive system and, in fact, throughout and on our entire body. Studies have shown that foods like these can prevent the proliferation of bacteria that cause disease while simultaneously encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria. Consuming limited saturated fats, processed foods, sugary foods and carbohydrates can also prevent the onset of diabetes, clogged arteries and high blood pressure. The link between diet and health is widely understood today, but studies of this connection date back at least eight centuries.  

    Origins of the Field 

    A 13th-century physician named Ibn an-Nafis, who is credited with first identifying pulmonary circulation, is also thought to be the earliest individual to study metabolic health. He observed that “the body and its parts are in a continuous state of dissolution and nourishment, so they are inevitably undergoing permanent change” and penned numerous papers on diet and other health topics.  

    It wasn’t until the 1970s that “metabolic syndrome” became a widely accepted term. Metabolic syndrome is the umbrella term for health conditions that can occur when an individual doesn’t give sufficient attention to their own metabolic health, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and is often connected to obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) established the standards for metabolic syndrome, also known as MetS, in 1998. 

    Our Present State of Metabolic Health 

    Recent studies show that in the United States, more than 88% of adults are not in optimal metabolic health. Though obese participants of the study had the lowest levels of metabolic health, many people of “ideal” weight were also outside the ~12% of participants whose metabolic health was considered strong. For individuals of all sizes, a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and abstention from drugs, tobacco and alcohol can help significantly improve metabolic health. For some individuals, however, improving metabolic performance may require intervention through drugs and other treatments. Studies are ongoing, as there is still much to learn about this dynamic field. 

    Recent findings, for example, have metabolic researchers rethinking long-held assumptions about metabolism. While many have believed that humans begin a long, slow decline in their metabolic rate starting around their 30s, new studies suggest a decline in our first two decades of life, then a relatively stable metabolism from our 20s until about age 60, when it begins to slow again. This knowledge could potentially impact doctors’ advice to patients regarding their diets and related health risks. 

    Concern and Hope for the Future 

    The statistics are staggering. Obesity rates are growing worldwide, and the number of children living with obesity is anticipated to approach 250 million by the end of this decade. The medical costs for the resulting heart disease, non-alcohol-related liver disease, stroke and other related ailments are projected to total more than  $1 trillion by mid-decade. And while obesity is a primary cause of these conditions, it’s not the sole cause, so many more people beyond that demographic may suffer the effects of poor metabolic health. Treatments in the research phase today may be able to help improve metabolic health in the near and distant future, however, including fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) and altering the makeup of bile acid and its role in digestion. Notably, both approaches relate directly to the gut microbiota, or the microorganisms that live in the human digestive tract.  

    Master the Human Microbiome 

    The gut microbiota are an essential part of the human microbiome, composed of bacteria, fungi, viruses and myriad other microorganisms that regulate our health and enable normal functioning. Because of the critical role the human microbiome plays in our everyday lives and its therapeutic potential, it’s one of the top areas for research into disease prevention and treatment. The University of Florida has created an online certificate program dedicated to this growing area of medical and scientific research.  

    Our Microbiome and Health Online Certificate program will empower you with the advanced expertise needed to thrive in a microbiome-related career. This 12-credit graduate certificate program explores fundamental theories in microbiome, the evolving state of microbiome research and the relationship between microbe and host. By completing just four online courses, you’ll strengthen your mastery of the technology and the latest published research used in the study of the microbiome and build crucial critical thinking and writing skills. 

    Complete Your Graduate Certificate Entirely Online 

    Our online microbiome graduate certificate program offers some distinct advantages. It’s delivered in an asynchronous online format, enabling you to complete coursework at your own pace from just about any location on the planet and give any professional and personal responsibilities the attention they need. We offer admission to the program with no GRE requirement, putting you one step closer to earning this career-enhancing credential. And you can complete your certificate in as little as two semesters!  

    Master a key component of metabolic health with our Microbiome and Health Online Graduate Certificate. 



    At a Glance