Calcium can help solve obesity crisis

By Matt Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Satiety could be improved by increasing calcium in the diet, say researchers
Satiety could be improved by increasing calcium in the diet, say researchers

Related tags: Calcium, Dairy council, Obesity

Increasing calcium in our diets could reduce the prevalence of obesity, by “mimicking the effect of bariatric [weight loss] surgery” and suppressing appetite, a dairy scientist has claimed.

Calcium might reduce appetite, said Dr Javier Gonzalez from the University of Bath. Gonzalez’s claim came as The Dairy Council said it was concerned about the lack of calcium intake in teenagers.

Speaking at The Dairy Council’s Dairy & Obesity: What the science says event in London last month, Gonzalez said calcium could mimic the same effects of bariatric surgery – currently one of the most effective ways of treating obesity.

Calcium induced a greater gut hormone response when eating, so that the body believed more quickly it had enough to eat, he claimed.

If we increase the dose of calcium in a meal from 500mg to 1,000mg, we get a greater ​[gut] hormone response, and more of an instant response,” ​said Gonzalez.

Low-or-high calcium breakfast

Gonzalez ran a study to investigate whether hormone response – and, therefore, appetite – was linked to a low-or-high calcium breakfast.

Twenty young, healthy male and female subjects were given breakfasts containing very little calcium (less than 200mg), and high-calcium breakfasts. Their appetites were monitored over the subsequent hours.

Appetite was suppressed by about 200kcal after the high-calcium breakfast, the results found.

This is just proof of principle,”​ said Gonzalez. “We need to repeat it in obese and overweight people, but there’s proof of principle that calcium might suppress appetite.”

It is widely understood that eating more contributes to obesity, Gonzalez said. A less risky alternative to bariatric surgery, and therefore obesity reduction, is “exciting”,​ he added.

Lack of calcium

The Dairy Council said it was concerned about the lack of calcium being consumed by young people. Calcium demands in the teenage years are higher than any other stage of life, it added.

“We are concerned about particular nutrients, in particular age groups in the UK population,”​ said The Dairy Council’s director of nutrition Anne Mullen. “Of concern to us in The Dairy Council, would obviously be calcium. Calcium is a problem. It’s a problem nutrient for teenagers; boys, but mostly girls.”

To meet calcium needs in teenage girls, The Dairy Council recommended they consume daily one glass of semi-skimmed milk, a 200g pot of plain yogurt and “a piece of hard cheese that’s about the length and width of two thumbs”.​ It recommended the same for teenage boys, but with half a pint of semi-skimmed milk instead of just a glass.

The latest nutritional data in the UK found that 15% of teenagers failed to meet their recommended calcium needs.

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