Recent research has shown that low levels of bifidobacteria in infants are correlated with an increased likelihood of developing allergies and autoimmune diseases, as well as weight maintenance challenges later in life. One study published in the American Society for Microbiology indicated a link between gut microbiota composition at two years of age and a child's body mass index (BMI) at age 12.
Next to the very first years of life, young children's (3- to 6-years-old) gut health becomes especially vulnerable as they spend more time outside of the home away from their parents' watchful eyes and in different environments (e.g. daycare and preschool), challenging the delicate balance of bacteria in their constantly-developing gut microbiome.
According to Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo, a child's immune system is under "constant learning" between the ages of three to six when it is particularly susceptible.
"It’s a very important age in children’s lives because they are basically changing from staying at home all the time. It’s their first step into a different environment and that means a lot of foreign microbes are reaching them, their immune system is challenged and often their digestive health is confronted with constipation," Sentko told FoodNavigator-USA.
To uncover more about children's gut health, Beneo participated in a study conducted by Professor Tamàs Decsi at the department of pediatrics of the University of Pécs, Medical School in Hungary, which investigated the effect of chicory root fiber supplementation on the gut microbiota composition of children 3- to 6-years-old.
In a randomized, double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial, researchers examined the supplementation of 6 grams of chicory root fiber (Beneo Orafti Inulin and Orafti Oligofructose) among 258 healthy children (3-6 years old), including those taking antibiotics, over a 24-week period.
The study builds on a previous publication which showed that reduced fibril episodes and sinusitis cases resulting from prebiotic chicory root fiber supplementation in young children, aged between three and six years old.
"It is known that antibiotics affect the gut," Sentko said. "We were interested if in the case of prebiotic chicory root fiber, if these microbiota would be more stable (i.e. more bifidobacteria were surviving)."
What's the ideal amount of fiber for kids?
The study determined that a daily intake of 6 grams of prebiotic chicory root fiber was shown to be sufficient in maintaining a healthy balance of bifidobacteria in the gut, even in children undergoing antibiotic treatment. According to Sentko, ensuring a child consumes 6 grams of chicory root fiber per day is an attainable goal for parents, guardians, and caretakers.
In the US, Sentko noted that the market for prebiotic kids' food has been slower to develop than in other parts of the world. However, Sentko foresees that with the "exploding" amount of research around the microbiota and its link to immune system, weight, and blood sugar management, new product development around prebiotics will pick up in the US.
"We think that more products are going in this direction. This market will change dramatically and it will surely mean that there will be developments in the market for infants, young children, kindergarten children, and school children," she said.
What does the future hold for kids food formulated with prebiotics? Learn from industry stakeholders at FoodNavigator-USA's FOOD FOR KIDS summit, a must-attend event for companies supplying foods, beverages or supplements to expectant Moms, babies, toddlers, young children and teenagers, taking place in Chicago on Nov. 18-20. Register HERE.
If you're a brand in the kids' food market interested in speaking at the event, please contact Chloe Spears: Puybr.Fcrnef@jeoz.pbz.