Is there a connection between antibiotics and obesity in children?
More and more people are taking antibiotics these days for a variety of reasons. This leads to the problem that more and more strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. However, taking antibiotics can also cause completely different problems, at least if small children are prescribed these drugs. Researchers have now found that taking antibiotics and medicines for heartburn increases the risk of obesity in young children.
Scientists from William Beaumont Army Medical Center and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences found in their recent research that if children are treated with antibiotics before their second birthday, this increases the likelihood of obesity developing in later childhood. The physicians published the results of their study in the English-language journal “Gut”.
Antibiotics increase children’s risk of obesity by 26 percent
The US researchers, who studied the effects of the usual treatment of infections, pointed out that a disturbance of the intestinal bacteria could influence the metabolism of children in the longer term and increase weight gain. If children were prescribed antibiotics in the study, they were 26 percent more likely to be diagnosed with obesity. This risk for weight gain increased even further with several treatments, and researchers found that drugs taken for excessive stomach acid also had a (lesser) effect and further increased the risk of obesity.
Data from more than 333,000 infants have been studied closely
In their study, the scientists focused on investigating the intake of antibiotics and so-called antacids to suppress heartburn in early childhood in patients diagnosed with obesity. Health data from more than 333,000 infants included in the U.S. military health system database between 2006 and 2013 showed that nearly three quarters (72.4 percent) had received an antibiotic.
14.1 percent of children at the age of three suffered from obesity
At the age of three, a total of 46,993 (14.1 percent) children became obese. In 9,628 patients, neither antibiotics nor drugs to suppress gastric acid had previously been prescribed. Although the study was merely an observational study, there is clear evidence that outpatient prescriptions for antibiotics and acid inhibiting drugs within the first two years of life are associated with the development of childhood obesity. This link was further strengthened by the prescription of more than one type of microbiota-changing drug. However, children whose parents were below officer rank in military service, which is an indicator of increased wealth and socioeconomic status, were more likely to be obese. This could explain part of the increased risk, the experts say.
Were there limitations to the study?
Critics of the study argue that despite its enormous size, the study has limitations. Since this is an observational study, no causes for the relationship were identified – such as the mother’s weight, whether the mother smoked, and other important factors. A person’s environment has a major impact on the development of obesity, which should be taken into account. For example, children from poorer families are more likely to be obese and more exposed to cigarette smoke, which can increase the risk of infection. Today, more and more children are obese. In the UK alone, every third child leaving primary school is overweight or obese. In addition, it is very important that antibiotic resistance continues to increase. That is why all unnecessary uses of antibiotics must be avoided as far as possible throughout the life cycle, according to the experts.