Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2013, 2.1 billion people were either overweight or obese. Children and teenagers are not excluded from the global obesity trend. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 18 million children in Asia were overweight in 2010. Similarly among Singaporean children, the prevalence of obesity among those between 6 and 7 years of age rose dramatically from 1.4 percent to 12.7 percent between 1976 and 2006.
Childhood obesity is not only linked to a series of subsequent serious health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, it is also widely associated with a high risk of premature death later in life. As studies suggest that up to 30 to 50 percent of obese children remain obese until adulthood, effective interventions need to begin in earnest to combat obesity trends.
A range of factors contribute to the prevalence of childhood obesity in Asia. Urbanisation has witnessed altered dietary patterns and reduced physical activity that have led to obesity. Yet, dietary habits can evolve in a helpful way as food manufacturers actively look into various ways to use functional food ingredients to help prevent excessive weight gain in children. The most important factors and approaches are sketched in the following.
Blood Glucose Management Holds Weight
Linda Tanner, Los Osos, US
The increased incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases in recent years is not least attributable to the fact that our diet is nowadays increasingly high glycaemic. Consequently, the overall aim is to achieve a lower glycaemic diet from early on, in order to delay or even prevent the onset of NCDs.
According to a recently published Scientific Consensus Statement, developed by an international committee of leading nutrition scientists, low glycaemic diets reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, help to control blood glucose in people with diabetes, and may also help to manage weight gain.
Including a greater amount of prebiotic fibres in a daily diet can help to control blood glucose levels. Prebiotic fibres, such as inulin and oligofructose, are non-digestible carbohydrates and can replace high glycaemic carbohydrates (such as glucose, sucrose, maltodextrins or starch found in white bread or boiled potatoes) on a weight to weight basis, thereby lowering the glycaemic profile of the final product.
New proprietary research coordinated by Beneo has clearly shown the positive impact on blood glucose response when a proportion of the sugars in a product is replaced with the prebiotic fibre oligofructose, which is derived from chicory. The new oligofructose research data demonstrates a significantly lower blood glucose response with only 20 percent replacement.
Lowering Body Mass Index
A study has demonstrated the effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin supplementation on body weight maintenance in non-obese adolescents, aged 9-13 years, over a one-year period. Interestingly, in addition to increased bone mineral density, the increment in Body Mass Index (BMI) during the intervention year was much lower for the supplemented group than for the control group.
Body weight and body fat mass were also significantly lower in the supplemented group. Yet, at the same time, the difference in BMI readings between the two groups was maintained, even increasing, a year after the supplementation ended.
This study demonstrates the potential of a dietary intervention with inulin and oligofructose in beneficially modulating BMI and body composition in this life stage, and in preventing undesirable weight gain during this critical stage of life. In light of the proven links between obesity and the development of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer, studies such as this are vital in finding ways to improve and maintain adolescent health for a lifetime.
Reducing Caloric Intake
Picture courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture
For those who haven’t had the chance to focus on a low glycaemic or fibre-enriched diet in younger years, studies have shown that prebiotic fibres are also effective in helping adults consume fewer calories and better control intake.
Some chicory-derived prebiotic fibres (oligofructose-enriched inulin), and oligofructose, have been scientifically shown to have positive effects in helping consumers maintain energy intake balance—an important factor in controlling obesity and weight problems.
They can effectively help consumers to eat less. In fact, including inulin and oligofructose in the diet helps modulate blood glucose levels and hormones involved in appetite regulation. Subsequent studies have shown that oligofructose increases satiety while reducing hunger and food consumption, leading to a lower total caloric intake during the day.
By adding prebiotic fibres to a product, manufacturers can also reduce the fat and sugar content without altering the product’s taste or texture. Compared to fully available, high glycaemic carbohydrates, prebiotic fibres from chicory provide only half the calories. As a result, they enable food manufacturers to produce lighter versions of traditionally indulgent food products, such as ice cream, yoghurt, dairy drinks and smoothies, which all age groups can enjoy even as they start on a lower caloric diet.
Although current childhood obesity rates in Asia is lower in contrast to other parts of the world, the obesity trend in the region could very soon catch up to the other continents as children today generally lead increasingly sedentary lifestyles coupled with poor eating habits. With multifunctional ingredients, such as prebiotic fibres, manufacturers have an opportunity to fortify their products and thus, pass these benefits onto their consumers and help them to enjoy their favourite foods, while managing their weight at the same time.
Taking A Broader Look At Prebiotics
Prebiotics are functional ingredients that provide a health benefit. But how does it work and what are the factors that influence its effectiveness? By Sherlyne Yong
Indi Samarajiva, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Marrying up nutrition with viable products is a challenge that has been posed to food manufacturers, who often have to balance out demands between consumers and regulatory bodies, and even among consumers themselves. Consumers may want more health benefits out of their foods, but they are unwilling to compromise on taste.
As a result, many have turned to functional ingredients to fulfil this gap. Prebiotics are one such example, which according to Professor Rastall, are very good for incorporating into different kinds of products.
“Most of them are stable, unless you’re looking at the very extremes of temperature and pH. Very acidic foods that are heated might have problems, but there aren’t many foodstuffs like that,” he said. As a result, they can be included into a variety of items such as baked goods, juices and dairy products.
Gut Microbiota & Overall Health
Probiotics and prebiotics form a pair (combined to become synbiotics) that packs a punch when it comes to creating a healthy gut environment. Both confer similar health benefits by positively influencing gut microbiota, but via different mechanisms.
While more research is needed to fully uncover the workings of gut microbiota on specific health effects, it is believed that probiotics act through the immune system while prebiotics bring about big changes in the colonic ecosystem.
“People take probiotics to have a health benefit. You’re carrying the same kind of bacteria in your colon in large quantities, and prebiotics will selectively feed those bacteria at the expense of more harmful bacteria. They will have a beneficial effect on the gut that will produce health positive metabolites instead of toxins, so we can have a healthy and balanced self-metabolism in the gut,” Professor Rastall explained.
He shared that evidence suggests that prebiotics help with metabolic syndrome by reducing systemic inflammation, which is a facet of metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes. It has also been found, through mice studies, that obese individuals tend to have reduced levels of bifida bacteria in their gut, which is a health positive bacteria that prebiotics such as inulin can increase.
Other studies are also exploring the effect of gut microbiota on cognitive function, such as whether it can influence mood. Nonetheless, such studies are still ongoing and more human trials are required to establish a connection between gut microbiota as a mechanism and its effect on specific health outcomes.
The Numbers Game
Due to its high stability across a wide range of temperatures and pH, prebiotics are generally well suited for being incorporated into many different kinds of products. As such, rather than technical suitability that governs the choice of vehicle for a prebiotic, consumer perception and behaviour plays a larger role.
For instance, people in Europe typically associate dairy products with health, and as a result, dairy products are often used for incorporating probiotics and prebiotics. Understanding consumer perception is integral for product formulation as it is intrinsically linked to the inclusion of ingredients at optimum levels.
Manufacturers also have to understand that ‘optimum’ does not mean ‘more’. According to Professor Rastall, consuming large amounts of prebiotics on a daily basis may cause side effects, but yet, people have to consume enough for it to be effective.
His solution for this conundrum is to deliver prebiotics into foodstuff that will be eaten in an appropriate quantity. At the same time, it is integral that manufacturers consider dosage levels with the final product in mind.
“There certainly is an effect of processing, potentially on some of these prebiotics, but there is also an effect of the matrix, so you may well find that some delivery or vehicles are more effective than others,” he said.
It is no longer enough to simply incorporate a functional ingredient into a product and call it a day’s work. Like all other things, balance is key, and the only way of achieving this is understanding the bigger picture.