Regular antibiotic use has been linked to obesity and weight gain, according to a new study published on Wednesday in the International Journal of Obesity.
It appears that administering antibiotics to children on a regular basis makes them more prone to weight gain, and this susceptibility progressively grows across the years, heightening the risk of obesity.
These conclusions were formulated by researchers after reviewing medical records belonging to 163,820 children from Pennsylvania, aged between 3 to 18.
The data had been collected by the Geisinger Health System from January 2001 to February 2012, during pediatric exams, and it referred to information such as antibiotic use, race, sex, height and body weight.
It was discovered that around 30,000 children (nearly one in 5 of them) had been prescribed antibiotics on 7 occasions or more. For each such medicine, kids gained some weight, but lost it by the next year, but regular use eventually resulted in cumulative increases in body mass index.
As a result, by the time these subjects had turned 15, their average weight was around 3 pounds higher than that of their counterparts who hadn’t taken any antibiotics.
“Not only did antibiotics contribute to weight gain at all ages, but the contribution of antibiotics to weight gain gets stronger as you get older”, explained Dr. Brian S. Schwarts, study lead author and professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Prior research had revealed that when farm animals take antibiotics, this expedites growth and weight gain. As a result, farmers and food producers have long been adding sub-therapeutic doses antibiotics as part of their livestock’s diet.
Other trials have also hinted at a possible connection between antibiotic use and weight gain. For example, a study conducted on approximately 10,000 Danish schoolchildren revealed that when expectant mothers consume antibiotics, this increases the risk that their future babies will be overweight or obese.
Research had also focused on antibiotic use among children, but the findings had been less conclusive and reliable since they usually depended on the parents’ recollections regarding their kid’s prescribed medicine.
In contrast, this time researchers actually analyzed medical records, making the findings much more accurate and consistent.
The mechanisms behind this weight gain caused by antibiotics remain unclear for now. One possible explanation is the fact that these pills destroy healthy gut bacteria, which permanently alters the human microbiota.
Due to these modifications, other processes are perturbed, such as food absorption and digestion. Also, the release of energy after meals is affected, causing individuals to take in more calories, thus gaining extra weight.
Despite this discovery, researchers don’t believe antibiotics should be avoided on all occasions. For example, there are bacterial infections which may cause death, unless treated with antibiotics. However, on many occasions children are prescribed antibiotics even for more minor health issues, such as viruses and ear infections.
This over-indulgence in antibiotics has led to the emergence of “superbugs”, which are incredibly drug-resistant, and in some cases even impossible to treat.
Therefore, this new study might give parents further incentive to avoid over-exposing their children to antibiotics, by adding one more palpable reason why this practice is harmful.
Taking such medical treatment indiscriminately has an immediate effect on kids, putting them at risk of spending their entire lives suffering from obesity. Nowadays, around one in 3 American kids and teenagers are overweight or obese, and their number has tripled from 1971 to 2011.
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