New research shows that prebiotics can combat the epidemic of childhood obesity

According to a radical new study, the solution to childhood obesity could lie in a prebiotic supplement. Specifically, a prebiotic supplement added to water that greatly improves gut bacteria profile. “Powdered fiber, mixed in a water bottle, taken once a day is all we asked the children to change, and we got, what we consider, some pretty exciting results–it has been fantastic,” said author and University of Calgary professor Raylene Reimer of the study, which was published in Gastroenterology.

For the four-month study, Reimer and her colleagues recruited 42 overweight or obese children between the ages of seven to 12 years old. The children were divided into two groups: one group received the prebiotic fiber oligofructose-enriched inulin, while the other group was given a placebo. After 16 weeks, the children who took the prebiotic-enriched water showed a decrease in body fat and the fat around their abdomen. Moreover, the amount of triglycerides in their blood decreased by 19 percent. The children from the placebo group, meanwhile, continued to gain weight at a brisk rate. Comparing the two groups in terms of annual projected increase in body weight, the children on the supplements would gain three kilograms or 6.6 pounds, and the children on the placebo would gain eight kilograms or 17.6 pounds.

“To me, what is so meaningful about this study is you can stop this trajectory of continuing to gain more and more weight. Being overweight in childhood tends to persist into teenage years then into adulthood,” Reimer stated. “This study, literally, allowed these kids to meet what would be considered normal growth rates for their age.” (Related: 10% of children are already OBESE by the time they hit elementary school)

In addition to the loss of body fat, the children on the supplements also experienced changes in the profiles of their gut bacteria. This is due to the prebiotics, which are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that act as fertilizer for good gut bacteria. Prebiotics are found in garlic, onions, bananas, and whole wheat, and are frequently added to yogurt, baby milk, and flavored water.

Reimer noted that prebiotics were inexpensive and non-invasive, and could therefore be used as a form of dietary treatment for obese and overweight children. Reimer added that the findings of the study showed the potential changing gut bacteria via diet had for better overall health. Reimer added: “Since we know that intestinal bacteria can influence what happens in the brain, we will continue to study how appetite and other functions in the brain are changed by diet and particularly fiber.”

Dr. Geoffrey Preidis, a member of the American Gastroenterological Association, praised the study. “This is a well designed trial that demonstrates how a prebiotic could potentially help combat one of the most prevalent and costly conditions afflicting children in the developed world – overnutrition – by targeting the gut microbiome,” Preidis told the

The most recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the percentage of obese children in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s, with one in five school-aged children falling under the classification of “obese”. Childhood obesity has numerous immediate and long-term impacts on physical and emotional health, including increased risk of asthma, sleep apnea, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

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