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Antibiotic use in childhood could lead to weight gain in the future

Posted:  Thursday, October 29, 2015

Research seems to be piling on about why rampant antibiotic use could be anti-health! Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that children who receive antibiotics throughout their childhood may gain weight faster than children not on antibiotics.

For the study, the researchers studied the Geisinger Health System’s electronic health records on 163,820 children aged 3 to 18 years. They looked at the children’s body mass index (BMI) and antibiotic use in the previous year or any earlier years for which there was a record. The results of the study were reported in the International Journal of Obesity.

According to the records, 21% of the children had taken antibiotics 7 or more times. The researchers found that at 15 years of age, children who had taken antibiotics 7 or more times during childhood tended to be 3 pounds heavier than children who did not take any antibiotics. The researchers feel the magnitude of the problem is probably bigger since the lifetime antibiotic use for many children may not have been recorded.

The researchers feel that although by the end of childhood the weight gain may be modest, the effect could be cumulative and compound well into adulthood. Earlier human studies have found that antibiotic use in infants could increase risk of weight gain. However, this study finds that antibiotic use at any age in childhood could have the same effect. They also remark that the ability of antibiotics to induce weight gain is already being exploited in animal husbandry.

So what could be the mechanism by which antibiotics increase body weight? Antibiotics could affect the numbers and composition of gut microbiota that are known to play a key role in food metabolism. The change in gut microbiota could alter the way food is metabolised, increasing the calories of the nutrients consumed.

In addition to influencing weight gain, frequent antibiotic use can also bring in resistance. Researchers of the study thus feel that physicians should dispense antibiotics judiciously and educate parents about their ill effects when used rampantly. “Systemic antibiotics should be avoided except when strongly indicated. From everything we are learning, it is more important than ever for physicians to be the gatekeepers and keep their young patients from getting drugs that not only won’t help them but may hurt them in the long run,” they conclude.

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