Baby antibiotics increases childhood obesity risk

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Although antibiotics are commonly prescribed during the first two years of a child’s life, it may result in an increased childhood obesity risk.

By the age of two, an astounding 10% of children are obese, weighing in at around 36 pounds. This obesity rate is not due to a single cause, but a new study has revealed that it could start at the GP’s office.

Researchers evaluated the health records of more than 64000 children for the period from 2001 to 2013 and found that the use of antibiotics prior to the age of two was linked to an increased obesity risk by the age of five. Around 70% of the children linked to the study had been given antibiotics before age two, which consisted of an average of 2.3 courses of medication per child. The higher risk link was particularly strong in those children who were given four or more courses of antibiotics.

Not all the drugs had the same effect. The link was high with broad-spectrum antibiotics, which is used to eliminate different types of bacteria all over the body. The link was not present with narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which is used to target certain types of bacteria. Of the sample participants, 41% had been given broad-spectrum antibiotics at some stage.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are normally recommended only if the narrow-spectrum type is ineffective, such as when the patient has an allergy or the infection will not respond. However, broad-spectrum antibiotics are prescribed for many childhood infections which may not even need an antibiotic.

According to the author of the study, Dr Charles Bailey of the Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia, many parents who visit the paediatrician with their sick child request antibiotics. He says these non-medical pressures prompt doctors to use broader-spectrum drugs, which may have an unintended effect later on.

One of the consequences of this may be the killing of certain types of beneficial bacteria in the young child’s gut at an age when their collection of bacteria is thought to be extremely sensitive. Studies on mice have indicated that when they are fed antibiotics around birth, it changes the microbes which affect the manner in which they digest food, the number of calories they get from their diet and how energy is extracted. Dr Bailey is concerned that this may now have become applicable to humans.

Bailey said that although the child is at higher risk of obesity in adulthood, there is still time to intervene. He said that they are hoping to discover the risk factors in early childhood and work to prevent obesity, but also identify the children and change their lifestyle to prevent obesity.

Image Credit: Paul

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