Antibiotic use before the age of two linked to increased risk of obesity

24 August 2016
A toddler

A new study has found that children who receive three or more courses of antibiotics before the age of two face an increased risk of childhood obesity.

The study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, examined the medical records of more than 21,000 children in the UK from 1995 through to 2013.

The researchers aimed to find out if there was an association between antibiotic use before the age of two and obesity at the age of four.

They found that children who’d taken antibiotics before the age of 2 had 1.2% absolute and a 25% relative increase in the risk of early childhood obesity.

The risk was strongest in those with repeated use of antibiotics, particularly three or more courses.

One of the study authors, Assistant Professor of Medicine at University of Colorado, Dr Frank Irving, says the results confirm what’s been seen in animals.

“Antibiotics have been used to promote weight gain in livestock for several decades and our research confirms that antibiotics have the same effect in humans.

“Our work supports the theory that antibiotics may progressively alter the composition and function of the gut microbiome and thereby predispose children to obesity,” he says.

Dr Irving says the results do not mean that antibiotics should not be used when necessary, but the study highlights the need for physicians and parents to think twice about antibiotic use in infants.

He says further research is required to determine whether these findings remain into adolescence and young adulthood, as well as to determine if early antibiotic usage leads to later-onset obesity.

Research should also examine whether specific classes of antibiotics are more strongly associated with subsequent obesity.

You can read the full study here.