June 14/Atlanta/Associated Press -- Teens who eat little fiber in their diet tend to have bigger bellies and higher levels of inflammatory factors in their blood, both major risk factors for developing diabetes and heart disease, according to a study by Georgia Health Sciences University.

University researchers studied 559 Georgia teens ages 14-18 and found that only about 1% met the recommended daily fiber intake of 28g for females and 38g for males. They consumed about one-third of recommended levels on average.

The researchers also found that female teens with a low-fiber diet tended to have higher levels of overall body fat. They did not find the same true in males. Meanwhile, males seemed to reduce their general body fat while on a high-fiber diet.

“The simple message is adolescents need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” said Dr. Norman Pollock, bone biologist at the Medical College of Georgia and the Institute of Public and preventive Health at Georgia Health Sciences University.

Researchers know that increasing fiber intake may be challenging, since teens are drawn to processed foods that are notoriously low in fiber. Teens may also be put off by the side effects of eating lots of fiber, which may include intestinal gas, bloating and diarrhea.

The research team hopes to secure funding to develop convenient and palatable forms of fiber. This includes fiber that could be sprinkled on the low-fiber foods that adolescents tend to consume regularly.

The researchers do not fully understand exactly how fiber combats high body fat and inflammatory factors. They hypothesize that increased bulk in the stool causes digested food to spend less time in the gastrointestinal tract.

Another theory is that fiber improves insulin sensitivity and may potentially reduce visceral adiposity.

Fiber tends to speed satiety and may help decrease total food consumption and calorie intake. Finally, fiber may also help absorb and eliminate inflammatory factors.

Fiber performs several key functions in the human body, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is a natural laxative that keeps food moving through the intestinal tract. It may also lower the concentration of cholesterol in the blood.

The study may be the first to correlate dietary fiber intake with inflammatory markers in adolescents. It was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

 From the June 15, 2012, Prepared Foods Daily News