BACKGROUND: The alarming trend of paediatric obesity deserves our greatest awareness to hinder the early onset of metabolic complications impacting growth and functionality. Presently, insight into molecular mechanisms of childhood obesity and associated metabolic comorbidities is limited. This systematic review aimed at scrutinising what has been reported on putative metabolites distinctive for metabolic abnormalities manifesting at young age by searching three literature databases (Web of Science, Pubmed and EMBASE) during the last 6 years (January 2015-January 2021). Global metabolomic profiling of paediatric obesity was performed (multiple biological matrices: blood, urine, saliva and adipose tissue) to enable overarching pathway analysis and network mapping. Among 2792 screened Q1 articles, 40 met the eligibility criteria and were included to build a database on metabolite markers involved in the spectrum of childhood obesity. Differential alterations in multiple pathways linked to lipid, carbohydrate and amino acid metabolisms were observed. High levels of lactate, pyruvate, alanine and acetate marked a pronounced shift towards hypoxic conditions in children with obesity, and, together with distinct alterations in lipid metabolism, pointed towards dysbiosis and immunometabolism occurring early in life. Additionally, aberrant levels of several amino acids, most notably belonging to tryptophan metabolism including the kynurenine pathway and its relation to histidine, phenylalanine and purine metabolism were displayed. Moreover, branched-chain amino acids were linked to lipid, carbohydrate, amino acid and microbial metabolism, inferring a key role in obesity-associated insulin resistance.
CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review revealed that the main metabolites at the crossroad of dysregulated metabolic pathways underlying childhood obesity could be tracked down to one central disturbance, i.e. impending insulin resistance for which reference values and standardised measures still are lacking. In essence, glycolytic metabolism was evinced as driving energy source, coupled to impaired Krebs cycle flux and ß-oxidation. Applying metabolomics enabled to retrieve distinct metabolite alterations in childhood obesity(-related insulin resistance) and associated pathways at early age and thus could provide a timely indication of risk by elucidating early-stage biomarkers as hallmarks of future metabolically unhealthy phenotypes.