Microbiota: essential to health, but limited global awareness
What do our fellow citizens know today about the role of microbiota? What do they know about how to take care of their microbiota? What role do healthcare professionals play in informing patients? To answer these questions, the Biocodex Microbiota Institute commissioned Ipsos to conduct a major international survey on the subject: the International Microbiota Observatory. To carry out this survey, Ipsos questioned 6,500 people in 7 countries1 . The survey was conducted from March 21 to April 7, 2023. The results were presented on June 27, World Microbiome Day.
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Very little knowledge of the word “microbiota”
As a general rule, knowledge of microbiota is fairly low: only 1 in 5 people say they know the exact meaning of the term microbiota (21%), while the rest admit to knowing the term by name only (43%). More than 1 in 3 people say they’ve never even heard of the word (36%). Moreover, when we dig deeper into their level of knowledge, the notions are superficial. While a small majority claim to know the intestinal microbiota (53%, but only 24% know exactly what it is), other types of microbiota are much less well known: whether it’s vaginal microbiota (45% of interviewees know the term, but only 18% know exactly what it is), oral microbiota (43% know it by name, but 17% know what it is) or skin microbiota (40% know the term, but only 15% know what it is). Others are even less well known, such as urinary microbiota (only 14% know exactly what it is), pulmonary microbiota (13% know exactly what it is) and ENT microbiota (11% know exactly what it is).
And relatively poor knowledge of the role and importance of microbiota
Around 3 out of 4 interviewees are aware that a risk of microbiota imbalance can have major consequences for health (75%), that our diet has major consequences on the balance of our microbiota (74%) and that our microbiota play a real role in immune defense mechanisms (72%). For the rest, knowledge remains very moderate. More than 1 in 3 people are unaware that antibiotics have an impact on our microbiota (34%). Nearly 1 in 2 people are unaware that microbiota are made up of bacteria, fungi and viruses (46%), and that they enable the gut to deliver essential health information to the brain (47%). 1 in 2 people think that when our microbiota is unbalanced or malfunctioning, there’s not much we can do about it (47%). Finally, the vast majority of those interviewed were unaware that many diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism, could be linked to microbiota (75%).
1 in 5 people know what the word microbiota means (21%)
24% said they know exactly what gut microbiota is
1 in 3 people have been informed by a healthcare professional that antibiotics can upset the microbiota balance (33%)
The beginning of awareness?
More than 1 in 2 people today say they have adopted behaviors in their daily lives to maintain the balance of their microbiota (57%). This new awareness is to be applauded, but it should also be put into perspective. Firstly, because only 1 in 7 people say they do this “a lot” (15%), while most of the others say they do it only “a little” (42%). Secondly, 43% of those questioned said they had not adopted any specific behavior. The results of the International Microbiota Observatory show that there’s still a lot to be done in this area.
Information provided by healthcare professionals: a game-changing vector of information!
Fewer than 1 in 2 patients say that their doctor has ever explained to them how to maintain balanced microbiota (44%, but only 19% have had this explained to them more than once), or prescribed probiotics or prebiotics (46%, but only 21% say they have done so several times). Only a minority of those interviewed claim to have been made aware by their doctor of the importance of having a well-balanced microbiota (42%). Finally, only 1 in 3 said their doctor had ever taught them what microbiota was and what it was used for (37%, and only 15% had had this explained to them several times).
The information provided by doctors when prescribing antibiotics illustrates just how inadequate it still is to make patients aware of the risks of treatment in terms of microbiota imbalance. Prescribing antibiotics should be an opportunity to provide essential information on the microbiota, but in many cases it isn’t. When prescribing antibiotics, for example, the patient’s microbiota is at risk. When antibiotics are prescribed, less than 1 in 2 patients say that their doctor has informed them of the risk of digestive problems associated with antibiotics (41%). Only 1 in 3 were given advice on how to minimize the negative consequences of taking antibiotics on their microbiota (34%) or informed that taking antibiotics could have negative consequences on the balance of their microbiota (33%).
What the survey shows is that once a patient has received all the information on the subject, and repeatedly, his or her relationship with microbiota changes significantly, and stands out from the average. More than 9 out of 10 people (95%) who have received repeated information from their healthcare professional have adopted behaviors to keep their microbiota balanced, compared with 57% of all those surveyed. Repeated information from a healthcare professional therefore has a very strong impact on knowledge levels and behaviors.
This exclusive survey reveals both a general lack of understanding of how the microbiota affects our health and the essential role of healthcare professionals in imparting knowledge.
1 in 2 patients say that their doctor has ever explained to them how to maintain balanced microbiota
95% of people having received information repeatedly from their healthcare professional have adopted behaviors to limit the risk of microbiota imbalance
vs 57% Overall