Flavio Vieira Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Examining how nutrition and medication can join forces to treat obesity in adolescents

A research team will measure changes in glucose control and gut microbes when dietary fibre and metformin are used together

Children with obesity are at a greater risk of chronic diseases and conditions like Type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease. In Canada, obesity rates have nearly tripled in the last three decades and today, 30 per cent of children aged five to 17 are classified with overweight or obesity.

Unfortunately, current treatment approaches like dietary changes and exercise have had limited success in treating obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“It’s critical to intervene early in adolescents to prevent long-term, irreversible and extensive complications in adulthood,” says Flavio Vieira, who is exploring how nutrition – specifically dietary fibre – and medication can treat obesity and diseases associated with it in adolescents. 

Both medication and dietary fibre alone have been shown to provide important health benefits in this population, such as weight loss and improved metabolism, explains Vieira, a WCHRI postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pediatrics. Therefore, a combination of dietary fibre supplements and metformin, a diabetes medication, may provide even better health effects than either treatment alone.

“Gut microbiota – a system in your digestive tract that’s made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other organisms – plays a very important role in health and may regulate, both positively or negatively, the development of obesity or metabolic complications,” he says.

He hopes that the combined intervention may beneficially modify the composition and function of the gut microbiota, resulting in better glucose control by reducing insulin resistance.

Vieira and the research team supervised by Andrea Haqq and Carla Prado will measure an extensive number of health-related markers, like blood tests, body weight and body fat, the sensations of hunger, satiety and quality of life, and the microbes that live in the gut to determine how dietary fibre and metformin affect adolescents.

“We expect the health benefits provided by the treatments will be caused in part by changes in the gut microbes, and by a comprehensive analysis of these microbes, we will discover new pathways to prevent and treat obesity more effectively in adolescents and its related diseases,” says Vieira.

Flavio Vieira is supervised by Andrea Haqq and Carla Prado. His fellowship has been funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.