The team assessed 54 children aged between six and 14, all of whom were classed as obese.
The scientists measured the participants’ weight and metabolic health markers – which includes attributes such as their blood glucose levels – at the beginning and end of a 12-week period.
They found that the children treated with probiotic supplements lost significantly more weight and had better metabolic health than those who were not.
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According to the researchers, their findings also suggested that use of probiotic supplements may reduce children’s risk of developing metabolic conditions in future, such as type two diabetes or heart disease.
The findings were presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology’s annual meeting in Vienna, Austria.
The study’s lead author, Professor Rui-Min Chen of Fuzhou Children’s Hospital in China, said the research suggests probiotic supplementation “may be an effective strategy for the prevention and treatment of obesity in the future”.
However, the professor also acknowledged the limitations of the small-scale investigation.
“More work is needed to confirm these findings, our number of participants was small and limited to the Fujian area,” Professor Chen said.
“Other studies have also reported no benefits from probiotic treatment in obese children but these were much shorter in duration. So, further investigation is needed before any medical recommendations can be made.”
Further investigations will involve the scientists analysing how probiotics alter the gut, in order to better understand the connection between gut bacteria and obesity.
Around one in five children are classed as overweight or obese when they reach primary school age, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) states.
The organisation states that this figure increases to one in three by the time children reach secondary school, adding that half of all children are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020.
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“Childhood obesity is a growing problem that needs early intervention to prevent long-term health problems,” said Professor Chen.
“Microbiome-based treatments could be a new and more effective strategy for tackling this serious epidemic.”
Last month, it was reported that health campaigners were urging the government to introduce a new “calorie tax” in order to combat childhood obesity, diabetes and cancer.
According to campaign groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, taxing companies which produce processed food with high levels of fat and sugar would encourage the firms to develop more nutritious products.