Increased parental interest in gut health of their children creates opportunities for prebiotics

This content item was originally published on, a William Reed online publication.

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

As parents become more aware of the importance of the developing gut microbiome in their infants and children there will be opportunities for prebiotics, says ingredients supplier Beneo.

From impacting the composition of the gut microbiota in infants to strengthening the immune systems of young school children, and right through to bone health and body composition benefits in pre-teens and adolescents, there is a solid body of science supporting the potential benefits of chicory root fiber, Denisse Colindres, Nutrition Communication Manager North America for Beneo, told us at the recent FoodNavigator-USA Summit: Food For Kids.

And there is also growing awareness of the term prebiotic, which is beginning to appear on product labels, sometimes beside probiotics and sometimes alone.

Kellogg’s Happy Inside brands are a good example of products calling out prebiotics, and we’ll see more messaging around prebiotics on product labels in the future, added Kyle Krause, Product Manager - North America, for Beneo (for more from Kyle, watch the video above).

14 trials in infants and small children

The efficacy of Beneo’s prebiotic ingredients to benefit the developing gut microbiome in infants and small children is supported by 14 trials in infant formula or follow on formula, said Colindres.

“Bifidobacteria is an important player in the microbiota of infants, as it represents the dominant genus of the developing microbiota of breastfed babies,”​ she explained. “Bifidobacteria appear to be the predominant genus already 3 days after birth in breast-fed babies and remains predominant during the first 6 months of life.

“Breastfeeding is the golden standard yet when this is not possible it is essential that the infant formula given to replace breastfeeding mimics as close as possible the benefits of breast feeding.

“Altogether, results from the various studies show that inulin-type fructans from chicory, by increasing bifidobacteria, shift the composition of the microbiota of infants (on a formula) to stimulate a gut colonization and composition more comparable to that of breastfed babies.”

Studies consistently demonstrated an increase in counts of bifidobacteria in stools samples:

  • Prebiotic effect was observed for all type of inulin-type fructans from chicory
  • The prebiotic effect was shown irrespective of the gestational age and the age of the studied population (newborns (preterm, term), young children, school children).
  • The prebiotic effect was shown irrespective of the different ethnicities of the studied populations (European, Asian, South American).

The effects were confirmed for:

  • Different supplementation periods (1 week till 4 months)
  • For varying concentrations used in the formulas (1.5 g/L till 8 g/L) or daily intakes (2 g/day until 5 g/day).
  • With different molecular techniques to analyse the microbiota composition

Kindergarten and up

Children between the age of two and five are undergoing big changes in their lives as they transition from daycare to kindergarten, and their diets are also changing. The stress of kindergarten and dietary changes may result in constipation, which is not uncommon in two to five year olds, said Colindres.

A 2017 paper by Spanish researchers in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition​ (Vol. 68, No. 5, pp. 587–594) showed that four grams per day of Orafti inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated two to five year olds.

A separate study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Nutrition​ (Vol. 148, No. 8, pp. 1300–1308), showed that chicory root fiber supplementation in three- to six-year-olds improved their gut microbiota composition and strengthen their immune defenses. The study was said to be the first to examine the effects of chicory root extract in this age group.

“These children were followed up during the winter months – a time where most kids are getting ill – and it showed that the children consuming the prebiotic combination of inulin type fructans had higher levels of bifidobacteria, also softer stools within the normal range and interestingly,  had fewer episodes of fever and sinusitis compared to the control group,”​ said Colindres.

“This is very exciting as it shows that a simple intervention like this during the winter months helps kids strengthen their immune system, missing less days of school and also allow parents not to miss work.”

Trials in pre-teens and teens 

Kellogg Happy Inside
Kellogg recently launched Happy Inside and call out 'prebiotics' on the label

The potential benefits of prebiotics continue into pre-teens and teens, added Colindres.

A number of studies support the potential health benefits in these age groups, with data showing improvements in bone health (via increased absorption of calcium), as well as potential benefits for weight and body composition (see references at the end).

“We see a clear opportunity for product development in the area of gut health as the science shows promising results as well in these age groups,”​ she said.  


Nicolucci et al., 2017, Gastroenterology,​ 153(3): 711–722. “Prebiotic reduces body fat and alters intestinal microbiota in children with overweight or obesity”

Hume et al., 2017, Am J Clin Nutr​, 105(4): 790–799. “Prebiotic supplementation improves appetite control in children with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial”

Abrams et al., 2005, Am J Clin Nutr,​ 82(2): 471-476. “A combination of prebiotic short- and long-chain inulin-type fructans enhances calcium absorption and bone mineralization in young adolescents”

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