Early antibiotic administration has been associated with some long-term (though rare) health consequences and now researchers are linking it to obesity, one of the most pressing public health concerns in the world today.

In a study published in the journal Gastroenterology, the American Gastroenterological Association's official journal, researchers documented that children given at least three courses of antibiotics before they reach 2 years old have shown an increased risk for early childhood obesity.

Study author Frank Irving Scott explained that antibiotics have been administered to livestock for decades to promote weight gain and they have the same effect on humans. And while they caution against administering antibiotics to children below 2 years old, they are not saying that the medication should altogether be scrapped. Rather, the researchers are encouraging parents and doctors to think twice about giving children below age 2 antibiotics when clear indications are absent.

For the study, the researchers assessed the connection between early antibiotic use and obesity by age 4 in a large population-representative cohort study in the United Kingdom. They found that children that have been given antibiotics early in their life have a 25 percent relative and 1.2 percent absolute increase in early childhood obesity risk, which is strongest when at least three courses have been prescribed.

According to Scott, the results of their research support the idea that antibiotics have the ability to progressively alter the function and composition of gut flora, thereby making children predisposed to obesity, much like what has been observed in animal models.

Some 49 million outpatient visits involving children are prescribed with antibiotics in the United States every year and over 10 million of these are for pediatric patients without clear indications, even when there is increased awareness of the dangers of antibiotic resistance and the potential development of infectious, allergic and dermatologic complications.

The researchers recommend that further study be carried out to determine if their findings extend into adolescence and young adulthood, as well as which classes of antibiotics raises the most risk associated with the onset of obesity.

James Lewis, Dale Lee, David Goldberg, Kevin Haynes, Ronac Mamtani and Daniel Horton also contributed to the study.

Photo: Theodore Scott | Flickr

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