Research suggests prebiotic fiber could add to the arsenal for fighting the obesity epidemic

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Obesity

The stubborn rise of obesity rates in America despite the launch of a wide-range of calorie-restricting ‘diet’ products and exercise plans underscores the difficulty of weight loss, but emerging research on the role of the gut microbiota in the battle of the bulge suggests the solution could lie in what people eat and not necessarily in how much.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of adult obesity in the US climbed from 30% to 38% from 1999 to 2014 and childhood obesity increased from 14% to 17% in the same period. During this time much of the public health messaging focused on cutting back calories and ramping up exercise in order to turn the tide on obesity – a strategy that research presented by Beneo-Institute at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago last month shows may not be as effective as it is simple.

“The message that people have been given for decades is that you need to eat less and move more, and you need to use your will power to do that. And it is not about will power because we know the fundamental biology of the body changes the longer obesity has been present in the body. So, things in terms of your appetite control get really disturbed when a person has lost weight and then the body really wants to try and gain that weight back, so it will increase your feelings of hunger and decrease those feelings of fullness to try and get you back there,”​ Raylene Reimer, associate professor in the Faculties of Kinesiology and Medicine at the University of Calgary, told FoodNavigator-USA.

She added: “Now, we know the causes are much more complex than that and include things that people might not think of, such as if during pregnancy mom smoked – that is a risk for a child to become obese later in life.”

Hope lies in the gut

While this may sound grim, she said, there is hope.

“The big hope in the field really has come from our understanding of the gut microbiota and how it really does influence many processes in the body, including weight control and metabolism. And I do think we know in the microbiota field we can have an imbalance in our gut microbiota, the big next step is figuring out how do we get that back to a healthy profile or a healthy state of microbiota?”​ she said.

One answer that emerging research suggests is with prebiotics, such as inulin from chicory root.

For support, Reimer pointed to a meta-analysis of 26 intervention studies confirmed adults who consumed chicory root fibers, such as those made by Beneo, self-reported feeling fuller, and a study conducted by Reimer found heathy but overweight adults who consumed 21 grams of oligofructose daily for three months consumed fewer calories and lost body weight while a control group gained weight.

Other research led by Reimer showed children who consumed 8 grams of combined short and long chain inulin consumed about 200 fewer calories than the control group.

Findings like these are helping to fuel product innovation, according to the president of Beneo.

“The products we have have been on the market​ for some time are our inulin and oliogofructose products so as it pertains specifically to prebiotics what we see mostly in market today …[is] an increase [in] products that can be fiber gummies, as an example, which we are showing here, or stick packs or a combination of products where they have several different prebiotics in it and also beverages too,”​ said Jon Peters, president of Beneo Insitute.

Looking forward, he said, the future is promising as “there has been an uptick in interest in projects and or products that are launched with inulin as a prebiotic in those products.”

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