Greater Antibiotic Use Before Age 2 Linked With Obesity Risk

First Posted: Oct 01, 2014 04:52 AM EDT

Prescribing antibiotics often to children below two tied to an elevated risk of obesity in early childhood.

Obesity is recognized as a major public health problem in recent times. One out of every 5 children in the U.S. is known to be overweight or obese and this number continues to rise. This excess of body fat negatively affects the child's health and wellbeing. The World Health Organization regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21stcentury.    

In the latest study, researchers found that higher antibiotic use among children below 24 months was linked with increased risk of obesity in early childhood. Studies conducted earlier have revealed that  intestinal microflora might be tied with obesity and the exposure to antibiotics may further effect the microbial diversity as well as its composition.

"Because obesity is a multifactorial condition, reducing prevalence depends on identifying and managing multiple risk factors whose individual effects may be small but modifiable. Our results suggest that the use of broad-spectrum outpatient antibiotics before age 24 months may be one such factor," explain researchers.

They investigated electronic health records from 2001-2013 of  a network of primary care clinics. The data included records of children with annual visits at age 0-23 months and one or more visits at ages 24-59 months. The final group included 64,580 children, which  were followed until they were 5 years old.

They observed that 69 percent of the children were exposed to antibiotics before two years with an average exposure of 2.3 episodes per child. Also an increased risk of obesity was linked with greater antibiotic use, mainly in children with four or more exposures.

However, there was no link between obesity and narrow-spectrum antibiotics. Among all children, the prevalence of obesity was 10 percent at age 2 and 14 percent at age 3 and 15 percent at age 4.  The prevalence of being overweight was 23 percent, 30 percent and 33 percent, respectively, according to the research.

"This provides additional support for the adoption of treatment guidelines for common pediatric conditions that emphasize limiting antibiotic use to cases where efficacy is well demonstrated and preferring narrow-spectrum drugs in the absence of specific indications for broader coverage," researchers note.

The finding was documented in JAMA Pediatrics.

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