A recent study in the journal Gastroenterology highlighted the possibility of prebiotics as a prospective dietary addition in children who are overweight or obese.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of two separate cohorts monitored by researchers from the University of Calgary investigated the use of prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients such as fiber, in promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria in participants classified as overweight or obese (>85th percentile of BMI). Participants, ages 7–12, were randomized to receive either a slurry of oligofructose-enriched inulin in water once daily (n=22) or placebo (n=20) for 16 weeks.

The primary endpoint of the study was the change in percent body fat from baseline to 16 weeks. Participants were also examined for change from baseline in waist circumference, and blood levels of lipids, insulin and lipopolysaccharides.

At the conclusion of the study period, results showed that the once-daily prebiotic demonstrated significant benefit vs. placebo in change of percent body fat (–2.4% vs. +0.05%) and body weight z-score (–3.1% vs. +0.5%). The prebiotic supplementation also induced an increase in Bifidobacterium spp., not seen in the placebo group. Additionally, the prebiotic group showed a 19% decrease in serum triglyceride levels. 

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The study results projected that, with the use of once-daily prebiotics, overweight children may experience a significantly lower weight gain over the course of a year (3kg) vs. that with placebo (8kg). As childhood obesity may persist into adulthood, early intervention and management is crucial to prevent future obesity-associated morbidity and mortality.

“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,” said Geoffrey A. Preidis, MD, PhD, a member of the AGA Center for Gut Microbiome Research and Education scientific advisory board. “It is promising to see this evidence that alteration of the gut microbiota can be used to restore health.”

Prebiotics, which are inexpensive and non-invasive, may be a plausible dietary supplement for improving obesity outcomes, and warrant a larger clinical trial to evaluate their benefit in a wider pediatric population.

For more information visit gastrojournal.org.