A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that children who regularly use antibiotics can gain weight faster than those who don’t, a situation that might have lasting effects well into adulthood.

Conclusions were presented after examining medical records on 163,820 children ranging ages 3 to 18. After analyzing antibiotic prescriptions, body weight, and height, the results showed that one in five weighed (by the time those children reached age 15) on average about 3 pounds more than children who didn’t receive antibiotics.

Taking unnecessary antibiotics can put a patient at risk for adverse side effects, and for the potential development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Credit: Parent Map

While it is true that earlier studies suggested the link between antibiotics and childhood weight gain, no previous study had ever relied on a documented use of antibiotics in a child’s medical record and not on the mother’s memories of her child’s antibiotic use. Scientists have known for years that antibiotic use promotes weight gain in livestock, which is why large food producers include low doses of antibiotics in the diets of their animals.

“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,” said Dr. Brian S. Schwartz, the first author and a professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to the New York Times.

The reason why antibiotics and weight gain relate are not exactly clear for researchers. One hypothesis is that the drugs wipe out the healthy bacteria in a child’s body which may lead to permanent changes in the micro microbiome, changing how food is broken down in our bodies, how food is absorbed and how many calories are released from foods.

The study does not reject that some bacterial illnesses can be life-threatening without antibiotic treatment, but it does raise concerns about parents often pressuring pediatricians to give antibiotic prescriptions for ear infections and viruses that can’t be helped by the drugs.

“We’ve got to totally dissuade parents from advocating for antibiotics […] As parents we want to feel like we’re doing something active for our kids, but I think we’re doing our kids damage. If your doctor says you don’t need them, don’t take them,” said Dr. Schwartz.

Source: New York Times