A new study published in the International Journal of Obesity shows that children who received antibiotics in the first 5 months of life were 22% more likely to be obese at the age of 3. This effect was not seen in children who were received antibiotics between the ages of 6 and 14 months. The children’s weights then tended to return to an average range by the age of 7.
The study looked at 11,532 children in the Bristol, England area. The relationship between weight and early antibiotic use was present regardless of the parents’ weights, their socioeconomic status, or even what the child ate.
Dr. Leonard Tasso, associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine and of the study researchers, said, “We typically consider obesity and epidemic grounded in unhealthy diet and exercise, yet increasingly studies suggest it’s more complicated. Microbes in our intestines may play critical roles in how we absorb calories, and exposure to antibiotics, especially early in life, may kill off healthy bacteria that…would otherwise keep us lean.” Researchers believe that antibiotics at such a young age could damage infant’s digestive systems by altering the balance of that bacteria in the digestive tract.
Professor Nina Modi, vice-president of science and research at the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, stated that there has long been a concern that antibiotics are over-prescribed in infants: “We know that clinicians are going to err on the side of caution, but there’s a balance to be struck between not failing to give antibiotics in time, and giving them inappropriately.”
Dr. Richard J. Deckelbaum, professor of nutrition, pediatrics, and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, agreed, stating: ”It’s fast to write a prescription rather that to wait through a viral infection. It’s another cautionary paper about not overusing antibiotics in young children.”
Researchers emphasized that this study only shows an association between early use of antibiotics and obesity, not a causal relationship. Further studies will need to be done to determine if, in fact, antibiotics in the first 6 months of life have a causal role in childhood obesity.
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