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Fighting childhood obesity in India
Wednesday, 02 March, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Christian Philippsen
Childhood obesity is a major concern in the 21st century. In 2013, there were 42 million overweight children under the age of five globally1. Furthermore, the problem is no longer confined to children in developed countries and Western nations. Nearly three quarters of them come from developing countries2 such as India.  A recent study in 2014 revealed that approximately 35 per cent of Indian children aged 6-11 were overweight3.

A wide range of serious health complications has been associated with childhood obesity. These include an increased risk of premature onset of illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Studies suggest that up to half of obese children and adolescents will likely remain obese until adulthood, placing them at more risk for adult health problems. Many factors have contributed to the increase in childhood obesity in India, such as urbanisation and socio-cultural factors leading to an altering of dietary patterns, and the lack of physical activity and other lifestyle related factors. Multifactorial problems require different approaches that are all part of a success strategy. Physical activity is an essential element as well as nutrition. However, the latter is often ignored for being a viable tactic in fighting health issues such as obesity or diabetes. But even small shifts in dietary habits could be a start.

Less sugar, less fat, less caloriesThe increased incidence of health problems such as obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in recent years can be largely attributed to an increase in energy intake owing to the stronger purchasing power and higher availability of high fat, energy-dense foods. The reduction in energy expenditure due to urbanisation and mechanisation4 further exacerbates the problem.

Consequently, the goal is to reduce the intake of calories and to start a balanced nutrition from early on in order to lead an active lifestyle from a young age to prevent the onset of such health issues. Improving the nutritional profile of food and beverage by reducing sugar, fat and thus calories would be a welcome first step.

Both the sugar replacer Isomalt from beet sugar and the chicory root fibres inulin and oligofructose help to reduce sugar either partially or entirely in final products. Having a mild sweet taste, reduced calories and being soluble, they can be easily applied into various products (bakery, cereals, confectionery, dairy and so on). Additionally, inulin can act as a fat replacer. Being easily incorporated into moist or semi-moist food, it helps to stabilise water into a creamy structure providing a mouthfeel similar to fat.

Through the addition of chicory root fibre or sugar replacers, such as Isomalt, manufacturers can reduce the fat and sugar content without altering the food product’s taste or texture. Food manufacturers can therefore produce lighter, healthier versions of food products such as ice cream, yoghurt, cookies and confectionery. which are as tasty as their traditional alternatives that consumers of all ages can enjoy.

Eating less naturally
Chicory root fibres can help consumers to eat less naturally. Studies have shown that Beneo’s OraftiSynergy1 (oligofructose-enriched inulin), and oligofructose are an effective tool in helping both children and adults consume fewer calories and better manage their calorie intake. Dietary fibres from chicory root provide evidence based on human intervention studies for every step on the weight management ladder. Scientific research confirms their beneficial effect on hunger/satiety hormones as well as energy intake on a long term. Also weightloss data are available to demonstrate that chicory root fibres help consumers to eat less naturally.

Chicory root fibres can be added in various products, be it in baking goods, cereals, dairy or beverages. With their addition into these products, food manufacturers can help consumers of all ages to maintain their energy intake balance, which is an important factor in controlling obesity.

Balanced blood sugar levelsThe prevalence of childhood obesity in India can also be associated with the increasing sugar consumption in India. A recently published Scientific Consensus Statement developed by an international committee of leading scientists in the field of Glycaemic Index research and related health benefits, confirms that there is convincing evidence that low glycaemic diets reduce the risk f type II diabetes and coronary heart disease, help to control blood glucose in people with diabetes and potentially help to manage weight5.

There are two approaches to minimising the glycaemic effect in food. The company’s next generation sugar Palatinose modifies the body’s glucose supply, and provides balanced and prolonged energy by ensuring the carbohydrate energy enters the body in a balanced way, which is reflected by a low and steady blood glucose response curve. Another approach to reduce the overall glucose supply would be by sugar replacement, using sugar replacers like Isomalt or non-available carbohydrates like the chicory root fibres Orafti Inulin and Orafti Oligofructose. The low glycaemic characteristics of the company’s fibres, as well as its functional carbohydrates Isomalt and Palatinose have been confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The use of company’s portfolio of low glycaemic nutrients in beverages, cereals, bakery and confectionery helps manufacturers to lower the glycaemic response of their products, without altering the taste or texture. Consumers and particularly children can therefore continue enjoying their favourite products but with a healthier nutritional profile.

Increasingly sedentary lifestyles coupled with poor eating habits have contributed to prevalence of childhood obesity in India. Obesity is no doubt a multifaceted issue that needs to be addressed at several levels. Nutrition should be a key tactic in our tool box to fight obesity. A smart choice of the right ingredients allows a healthy diet which can be easily incorporated into existing eating habits and lifestyles. Low glycaemic carbohydrates and chicory root fibres can help manufacturers fortify their products and help consumers fight obesity while allowing them to enjoy their food at the same time.

(The author is managing director, Beneo Asia-Pacific)
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