The problem of obesity turning into an epidemic has fuelled an increasing body of research as scientists are trying to determine the causes, mechanisms and solutions. A new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, has recently shown a possible correlation between antibiotics and weight gain among children.
The study performed by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore suggests that children regularly taking antibiotics gain weight much faster than those who do not.
Health records of 163,820 children (of 3-18 years of age) were evaluated from 2001 to 2012. The team, led by Dr Brian S. Schwartz, analysed their body mass index (BMI) and their use of antibiotics in the previous year.
Findings showed that 21 % of the participants (around 30,000 of them) had received antibiotic prescriptions 7 times or more. It was found that when they reached 15 years of age, they would weigh about 1.4 kg more than their counterparts who had not taken antibiotics.
According to Dr Schwartz, while physicians are becoming increasingly cautious about prescribing antibiotics, parents often demand for them to be prescribed to their children for cold viruses and other diseases that do not necessarily need the drugs. He does indicate that physicians should do their best.
“Systematic antibiotics should be avoided except when strongly indicated,” says Dr. Schwartz. “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.”
Another concern of Dr Schwartz is that their data might be underestimates of the real impact of overusing antibiotics.
“Your BMI may be forever altered by the antibiotics you take as a child,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Our data suggest that every time we give an antibiotic to kids, they gain weight faster over time.”
The team also explains how the increased weight might be a result of the
drugs. According to them, evidence points at the microbiota of the human body. The bacteria in the gut are important for us to assimilate food and somehow, antibiotics destroy good bacteria as well as the bad ones. The bacteria population are, therefore, altered such that the breakdown of food is not done properly, leading to an increased calorie uptake. Ultimately, this causes weight gain.
According to Dr Schwartz, the trend will not be restricted to childhood only.
“While the magnitude of the weight increase attributable to antibiotics may be modest by the end of childhood, our finding that the effects are cumulative raises the possibility that these effects continue and are compounded into adulthood,” adds the professor.