If you come from a family with a track record of obesity, the chance are you’ll be fighting the flab yourself. And you’ll be only too well aware of the risks that come hand in hand with being overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes, poor overall health, and even an early death don’t make a great prospect for the future.
But now research has shown that eating yogurt may protect against one of the major risks to health associated with obesity – insulin resistance. This effect appears to be specific to youth whose family history puts them at risk of obesity, say the authors of this study of young Canadians.
Children born into families with a weight problem are challenged right from the word go. A young person whose mum or dad is obese is four times more likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood than a youth coming from a slim family. And if both parents are obese, the risk of becoming overweight as an adult soars to a whopping ten times that of someone whose parents are of healthy weight.
So why do children of oversized parents tend to pile on the pounds themselves? It could be due to genetics, but scientists think environmental factors may also play a role – for instance, how well-off a family is and the kind of foods they eat.
Why investigate yogurt in obesity risk?
The authors chose to investigate yogurt consumption because young people, especially teenagers, are consuming fewer dairy foods than in the past and researchers have wondered whether this is somehow contributing to the obesity epidemic. Studies have shown children who have the highest intakes of dairy are less likely to be overweight/obese than those with the lowest intake.
Family history was linked to body weight and metabolic profile
This study involved young people with a mean age of 20 years who were taking part in the long-term Quebec Family Study. Data from 112 youths who had at least one obese parent were compared with those from 86 who had no family history of obesity.
The results showed that the young people who had a family history of obesity were more likely to weigh more, have a higher body mass index and more body fat than those with no obese parents. They also tended to have a poorer metabolic profile, as shown by their insulin levels and insulin resistance, than those with no obese family history.
Those who ate yogurt had better insulin profiles
Eating yogurt wasn’t associated with weight or body fat in these young people with a family history of obesity. But those among them who ate yogurt did have healthier levels of insulin resistance than those who didn’t eat yogurt.
In fact, those with a family history of obesity who ate yogurt had insulin profiles that were similar to those of youths who had no family history of obesity.
Among those whose parents were both of healthy weight, yogurt consumption made no difference to their weight or to their insulin profiles.
How yogurt might achieve this effect
The results suggest yogurt consumption may protect against insulin resistance specifically in young people whose family history makes them susceptible to obesity, the authors conclude.
The link between yogurt consumption and insulin profiles may be to do with the proteins contained in yogurt, and its bioactive peptides that are produced during fermentation of dairy products such as yogurt.
Why this beneficial effect is only seen in those with a family history of obesity is unclear, say the authors. Perhaps it’s because the genetic susceptibility to obesity is partly mediated by changes in gut microbiota and this might be modified by yogurt consumption.
‘Consuming yogurt may protect against insulin resistance more specifically among youth at risk of obesity, and this relationship appears to be independent of body composition and lifestyle factors measured in this study.’ – Panahi S et al, 2018
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