Prebiotics Reduce Body Fat and Alter Intestinal Microbiota in Children Who Are Overweight or With Obesity

Gastroenterology. 2017 Sep;153(3):711-722. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.055. Epub 2017 Jun 5.


Background & aims: It might be possible to manipulate the intestinal microbiota with prebiotics or other agents to prevent or treat obesity. However, little is known about the ability of prebiotics to specifically modify gut microbiota in children with overweight/obesity or reduce body weight. We performed a randomized controlled trial to study the effects of prebiotics on body composition, markers of inflammation, bile acids in fecal samples, and composition of the intestinal microbiota in children with overweight or obesity.

Methods: We performed a single-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 2 separate cohorts (March 2014 and August 2014) at the University of Calgary in Canada. Participants included children, 7-12 years old, with overweight or obesity (>85th percentile of body mass index) but otherwise healthy. Participants were randomly assigned to groups given either oligofructose-enriched inulin (OI; 8 g/day; n=22) or maltodextrin placebo (isocaloric dose, controls; n=20) once daily for 16 weeks. Fat mass and lean mass were measured using dual-energy-x-ray absorptiometry. Height, weight, and waist circumference were measured at baseline and every 4 weeks thereafter. Blood samples were collected at baseline and 16 weeks, and analyzed for lipids, cytokines, lipopolysaccharide, and insulin. Fecal samples were collected at baseline and 16 weeks; bile acids were profiled using high-performance liquid chromatography and the composition of the microbiota was analyzed by 16S rRNA sequencing and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The primary outcome was change in percent body fat from baseline to 16 weeks.

Results: After 16 weeks, children who consumed OI had significant decreases in body weight z-score (decrease of 3.1%), percent body fat (decrease of 2.4%), and percent trunk fat (decrease of 3.8%) compared with children given placebo (increase of 0.5%, increase of 0.05%, and decrease of 0.3%, respectively). Children who consumed OI also had a significant reduction in level of interleukin 6 from baseline (decrease of 15%) compared with the placebo group (increase of 25%). There was a significant decrease in serum triglycerides (decrease of 19%) in the OI group. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction showed a significant increase in Bifidobacterium spp. in the OI group compared with controls. 16S rRNA sequencing revealed significant increases in species of the genus Bifidobacterium and decreases in Bacteroides vulgatus within the group who consumed OI. In fecal samples, levels of primary bile acids increased in the placebo group but not in the OI group over the 16-week study period.

Conclusions: In a placebo-controlled, randomized trial, we found a prebiotic (OI) to selectively alter the intestinal microbiota and significantly reduce body weight z-score, percent body fat, percent trunk fat, and serum level of interleukin 6 in children with overweight or obesity ( no: NCT02125955).

Keywords: Adiposity; BMI; Inulin-type Fructans; Pediatric Obesity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / drug effects*
  • Bacteroides / isolation & purification
  • Bifidobacterium / isolation & purification
  • Bile Acids and Salts / analysis
  • Body Height / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Child
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Inulin / adverse effects
  • Inulin / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Oligosaccharides / adverse effects
  • Oligosaccharides / pharmacology*
  • Overweight / blood
  • Overweight / drug therapy*
  • Pediatric Obesity / blood
  • Pediatric Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Prebiotics* / adverse effects
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Waist Circumference / drug effects


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Interleukin-6
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • Triglycerides
  • oligofructose
  • Inulin

Associated data