Prebiotics May Fight Childhood Obesity

Prebiotics seen to reduce weight gain among pediatric patients who were overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity can lead to significant adverse events and numerous health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is recommended that children eat a healthy diet and participate in physical activity to prevent high body mass index (BMI).

Despite food and exercise guidelines, many children develop obesity. A new study published by Gastroenterology found that prebiotics could be used to reduce body fat among children who are overweight or obese.

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients—such as fiber—that can stimulate the growth of gut microbiota, which has been implicated in numerous health conditions. The investigators found that treatment with prebiotics altered children’s microbiota and lead to reduced weight gain.

"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. "It is promising to see this evidence that alteration of the gut microbiota can be used to restore health. As a clinician, I hope that continued research into prebiotics will lead to a new strategy for the treatment of obesity."

Included in the study were 42 pediatric patients aged 7 to 12 years who were classified as overweight or obese, but considered healthy otherwise. Patients were randomized to receive oligofructose-enriched insulin, a prebiotic fiber, or a placebo for 16 weeks.

"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 lead investigator Raylene A. Reimer, PhD, RD.

Based on their findings, the authors project that the annual weight gain for children taking the prebiotics would be 6.6 pounds, while the placebo group was estimated to gain 17.6 pounds, according to the study. The expected weight gain for prebiotic-treated patients was within the healthy range, but the placebo group nearly tripled the yearly weight increase.

These findings suggest that prebiotic supplementation would reduce weight gain among children who were overweight or obese. Additionally, the authors found that prebiotics led to specific changes in gut microbiota compared with placebo, according to the study.

This is the first randomized clinical trial to analyze the changes of microbial composition in the gut among these patients with an intervention of prebiotics.

The findings call for further studies to explore the implementation of prebiotics in a larger pediatric population, according to the study.

Without early intervention, high BMI during childhood can lead to morbidity and early mortality. Since prebiotics are inexpensive and noninvasive, it could be a beneficial approach to combat childhood obesity and prevent significant health events later in life.