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Antibiotics might be causing childhood obesity

Recent studies have found that consumption of antibiotics during the early years of childhood might lead to obesity in the children.

According to one of the studies, a four-year-old who has received more than 9 antibiotic courses might be twice as prone to becoming obese as compared to those with zero exposure to such medicines.

Another study revolving around the same question also found similar trends between the two factors – obesity and antibiotic consumption.  However, there was slight variation when it came down to siblings, where the ‘antibiotic-obesity link’ didn’t seem to dominate. This suggests that there might be some genetic factors playing a role in the condition as well.

Although the research has shown a direct link between the two attributes, experts are still not sure if the weight is entirely dependent on the extent of antibiotic exposure.

According to Dr. Cameron Grant, ‘a senior researcher on one of the studies’, “There are illnesses in early childhood for which antibiotics must be given. However, there is a number for which antibiotics are not indicated, but are sometimes prescribed.”

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In an editorial published in the JAMA Network Open by Meghan Azad, ‘an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, in Canada’, she discussed how antibiotics might be causing obesity in children.

She used the example of farmers, who feed their livestock with numerous drugs – mostly antibiotics, to ‘fatten’ them up. As the antibiotics target the bacteria present in the body, the changes in the ‘gut microbiome’ causes an increase in their weight.

A microbiome or microbe can be described as a microscopic organism, which may exist in its single-celled form or in a colony of cells. ‘Gut microbiome’ refers to the trillions of bacteria that reside in the gut canal.

Unlike most, this bacteria is actually ‘good bacteria’ that helps in the smooth functioning of the body. They store and burn calories, maintaining a healthy weight. An increase or decrease in their numbers can, hence, alter the bodyweight of the organism.

A large proportion of the population is prescribed with antibiotics, even when they’re not necessary. Taking the example of the common cold – which is an infection caused by a virus. Most doctors give their patients antibiotics, which play no role in controlling the viral growth, but manage to kill the good bacteria in the body, disturbing its balance and hence, leading to weight gain.

Researchers in Grant’s study observed around 5100 children, based in New Zealand, for the first 4.5 years of their lives. Out of the 5100 subjects, almost 95% had been prescribed with an antibiotic at least once, and of those, 9% showed signs of obesity.

Furthermore, “children who’d received four or more antibiotic prescriptions tended to weigh more than those with fewer prescriptions. And children with at least 10 prescriptions were 2.4 times more likely to be obese, versus kids with no prescriptions.”

Another study, by Dr. Karen Leong from the University of Auckland, analyzed data involving around 133,000 mother and their infants. The results showed the same relationship between antibiotic consumption and childhood obesity. “The more antibiotics children used early in life, the greater their risk of obesity”.


Mariyam Tanveer

Recently graduated from LUMS, I now work as Researcher and a Freelance Writer on Ask Health News

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