Prebiotics May Help Limit Obesity In Childhood Interview with:

Raylene Reimer, PhD, RD Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology University of Calgary Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Cumming School of Medicine Full Scientist Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

Dr. Reimer

Raylene Reimer, PhD, RD
Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology
University of Calgary Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Cumming School of Medicine Full Scientist
Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute What is the background for this study?

Response: The human gut microbiota is a complex and dynamic population of microorganisms that benefit the human host through a variety of microbial activities (e.g. production of vitamins, immune regulation, utilization of dietary fiber). Despite these benefits however, it is now recognized that disruption of the microbiota (dysbiosis) can upset homeostasis and contribute to diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Manipulation of the gut microbiota to prevent or treat chronic disease is now an area of intense scientific and clinical interest. Dietary prebiotics, such as inulin and oligofructose, are used selectively by host microorganisms to confer a health benefit. Prebiotics have previously been shown to reduce body fat, improve appetite control and reduce blood glucose in adults with overweight or obesity. What are the main findings?

Response: To determine if altering the gut microbiota of children with overweight or obesity with a prebiotic supplement could reduce body fat, we conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled study in 7-12 year old children with overweight or obesity. In addition to examining changes in body fat, weight gain, blood lipids, markers of inflammation and blood glucose, we also used 16S rRNA sequencing to examine the global changes in the microbiota of the children at baseline and 16 weeks.

We found that children who consumed the prebiotic supplement had a reduction in body weight, body fat and trunk fat compared to children given the placebo. There was also a meaningful reduction in serum triglycerides within the group of children give the prebiotic. The most notable change in the gut microbiota with the prebiotic supplement was an increase in Bifidobacterium and a decrease in the relative abundance of Bacteroides vulgatus. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This study provides evidence that using a targeted dietary approach to alter the gut microbiota in children with overweight or obesity can increase the abundance of Bifidobacterium, bacteria generally considered to be beneficial to human health. Important from a public health and individual child level, is the impact that the prebiotic had in terms of children meeting and not exceeding expected weight gain. Based on the rate of weight gain during the study, the children in the prebiotic group would have an annual projected rate of weight gain that met the expected range for healthy weight children while the placebo group was projected to nearly triple the yearly expected increase.

In addition to changes in gut microbiota, the reductions in body fat and weight gain may also be in part attributed to improvements in appetite control. In a separate publication on this trial, our group also showed that prebiotic increased feelings of fullness and reduced how much children felt they could eat after 16 weeks of prebiotic supplementation ( What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Obesity is associated with numerous co-morbidities such as type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota is known to be present in these diseases and suggests that they are also viable targets for manipulating the gut microbiota to less disease burden. We are currently conducting a randomized, placebo controlled trial to determine if prebiotic supplementation can beneficially alter the gut microbiota in adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and improve liver health. Since rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are also rising in children, targeting them for early intervention with prebiotics is also research that is warranted. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Alissa C. Nicolucci, Megan P. Hume, Inés Martínez, Shyamchand Mayengbam, Jens Walter, Raylene A. Reimer. Prebiotic Reduces Body Fat and Alters Intestinal Microbiota in Children With Overweight or Obesity. Gastroenterology, 2017; DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.055

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on June 10, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD