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Fighting the obesity epidemic with functional solutions

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This year's World Digestive Health Day focuses on a global health crisis that rivals the impact of COVID-19: the ongoing worldwide obesity epidemic.

The human digestive system plays a central role in maintaining overall health: providing energy, helping to fend off infections[1] and even contributing to our sense of mental wellbeing.[2] This is the message at the heart of World Digestive Health Day (WDHD), the annual event championing gut health. This year, the event focuses on a global health crisis that rivals the impact of COVID-19: the ongoing worldwide obesity epidemic.

Obesity is one of the most pressing public health concerns of the modern era, with at least 2.8 million people dying every year due to complications associated with being overweight or obese.[3] In the past twelve months, the conversation surrounding the condition has taken on a new dimension, as scientists and consumers have become increasingly aware of obesity as a risk factor for COVID-19 mortality. [4] People with a BMI above 35 have an increased risk of becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19.[5] Obesity is also a leading cause of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.[6],[7]

 

The conscious consumer

Understandably given this context, consumers today are more concerned than ever about the impact of their weight on their overall health. Almost a third of those surveyed for ADM’s Outside VoiceSM insights platform reported that they are more conscious of their weight now, compared with only 21% prior to the pandemic.[8] Responses to this uptick in awareness vary from changing eating and exercise habits as a result of national lockdowns, to direct attempts to reduce the risks posed by COVID-19, but a common thread amongst health-conscious consumers is a desire for action. According to ADM’s Outside VoiceSM research, 80% of respondents state they intend to eat and drink more healthfully in future8, indicating that consumers aren’t just looking for quick fixes—they’re interested in longer term solutions that fit their busy lifestyles.

In response to this growing demand, leaders in the food and nutrition industry are developing new solutions using functional ingredients for nutritious and convenient applications that transform losing weight from a necessary chore to an act of self-care that helps them feel good from the inside out.[9]

Finding functional solutions

In consumer’s quest to take back control of their health and manage weight, one area of interest is the search for food and drink products that support digestive regularity. This behavior is driven by growing awareness that a healthy gut contributes to maintaining metabolic wellbeing and a more stable body weight.[10],[11] Dietary fiber, a non-digestible form of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, plays an important role in helping food move through the digestive system[12], and in giving us a feeling of satiety following a meal.[13]

Recent research has found that in developed Western nations, our daily intake of dietary fibre is 50% lower than recommended levels, and this in turn has been linked with the sharp rise in chronic metabolic health issues such as diabetes or obesity in the last few decades.[14] Well-tolerated prebiotic fibre ingredients offer an easy to use solution to combat this nutritional deficit. Results of clinical studies into ADM’s Fibersol®, for example, have demonstrated that it can provide support for the gastrointestinal tract. Resistant dietary fibres contribute to reducing the rise in blood glucose after meals and can even help in product re-formulation by replacing the structural function of sugar in many applications[15]. This gives producers an ideal option for reduced-sugar products such as snack bars, yogurts or smoothies that are designed to help consumers with caloric intake and sugar reduction.

Looking at supplement users, consumer interest in microbiome-based solutions to manage weight is also on the rise. In the US, over half of consumers already use supplements to support a healthy microbiome[16] while in Europe, 22% of adults take supplements to help manage their weight.[17] Science-backed solutions can enable product developers tap into this demand for a good gut-feeling.

Supplement manufacturers maximise appeal with an already engaged audience by incorporating clinically-supported solutions into their products. One such solution with human study data showing positive effects on multiple markers linked to metabolic support is ADM’s proprietary strain Bifidobacterium lactis (BPL1). In two clinical trials, positive effects were shown on abdominal fat mass proportion (live BPL1 in children with Prader-Willi Syndrome over 4.5 years of age) and Body Mass Index [18]. The heat-treated form of BPL1, HT-BPL1, has also shown positive effects on waist circumference in a clinical trial. In addition, ADM has also carried out an in vivo study to identify factors that may be involved in BPL1’s mechanism of action. In this pre-clinical model, a specific molecule—lipoteichoic acid (LTA), was shown to have a positive impact on fat deposition and a mechanism for this action was proposed.[19]

Furthermore, postbiotics (heat-treated organisms) are more suitable for use in a wider array of foods and beverages than live strains, such as fresh pasteurised milks or yogurts, as well as long-life products such as on-the-go snacks or room-temperature dairy offerings.

Tackling shoppers’ skepticism

Well informed and more interested in getting better functionality from their food and supplements than ever before, today’s savvy shoppers are actively looking for science-backed solutions to their weight management worries. While clinically supported results are essential, food producers must also remember that taste and sensory experience are even more important if they want consumers to keep coming back for more. Looking ahead, brands need to focus on transparency in their new product development (NPD) efforts, and ensure they work with experienced ingredient suppliers who can help them create the functional foods that will be flying off the shelves by next year’s World Digestive Health Day.

June Lin is Global Vice President, Marketing, Health & Wellness at ADM


[1] Zheng, D., Liwinski, T. & Elinav, E., Interaction between microbiota and immunity in health and disease, Cell Res 30, 492–506 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41422-020-0332-7, introduction.
[2] Clapp, Megan et al. “Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis.” Clinics and practice vol. 7,4 987. 15 Sep. 2017, doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987
[3] The European Association for the Study of Obesity, OBESITY STATISTICS, https://easo.org/media-portal/statistics/#:~:text=for%20global%20deaths.-,At%20least%202.8%20million%20adults%20die%20each%20year%20as%20a,attributable%20to%20overweight%20and%20obesity.
[4] BMJ 2020 https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4130
[5] Mahase E. Covid-19: Why are age and obesity risk factors for serious disease? BMJ 2020; 371: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4130 
[6] Saklayen MG. The Global Epidemic of the Metabolic Syndrome. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2018;20(2):12. Published 2018 Feb 26. doi:10.1007/s11906-018-0812-z
[7]Cancer Research UK, Does obesity cause cancer? https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/obesity-weight-and-cancer/does-obesity-cause-cancer
[8] ADM OutsideVoiceSM
[9] Hartman Consumer Research October 2020
[10] ADM OutsideVoiceSM Consumer Survey
[11] Thomas M. Barber, Stefan Kabisch, Andreas F. H. Pfeier and Martin O. Weickert, The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre, MDPI, Nutrients, October 2020, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/10/3209/pdf, page 5
[12] Ibid, The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre, page 3
[13] Clark MJ, Slavin JL. The effect of fiber on satiety and food intake: a systematic review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(3):200-11. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2013.791194. PMID: 23885994. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23885994/#:~:text=Epidemiologic%20studies%20have%20shown%20that,reducing%20appetite%20and%20energy%20intake.
[14] Barber, Kabisch, Pfeier and Weickert, The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre, pages 2-3
[15] Approved EU health claim for resistant starch type products, pursuant to an EFSA scientific assessment.
[16] The Hartman Group. Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements April 2020
[17] FMCG Gurus: Top Trends for Functional Lifestyle Explored, June 2020
[18] 2019 Pedret. Pedret A, Valls RM, Calderón-Pérez L, et al. Effects of daily consumption of the probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT 8145 on anthropometric adiposity biomarkers in abdominally obese subjects: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2019;43(9):1863‐1868. doi:10.1038/s41366-018-0220-0
[19] Balaguer, F., et al, Microbial Biotechnology 0(0) : 1-12 (2021)

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