The gut microbiome affects the health status of the host through different mechanisms and is associated with a wide variety of diseases. Both childhood undernutrition and obesity are linked to alterations in composition and functionality of the gut microbiome. One of the possible mechanisms underlying the interplay between microbiota and host metabolism is through appetite-regulating hormones (including leptin, ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide-1). Short chain fatty acids, the end product of bacterial fermentation of non-digestible carbohydrates, might be able to alter energy harvest and metabolism through enteroendocrine cell signaling, adipogenesis and insulin-like growth factor-1 production. Elucidating these mechanisms may lead to development of new modulation practices of the gut microbiota as a potential prevention and treatment strategy for childhood malnutrition. The present overview will briefly outline the gut microbiota development in the early life, gut microbiota alterations in childhood undernutrition and obesity, and whether this relationship is causal. Further we will discuss possible underlying mechanisms in relation to the gut brain axis and short chain fatty acids, and the potential of probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics for modulating the gut microbiota during childhood as a prevention and treatment strategy against undernutrition and obesity. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd and European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism. All rights reserved.