Broad-spectrum antibiotics increase risk of obesity in children below 2

Study shows that children given broad-spectrum antibiotics were two times more likely to be obese than other children

By Jemima Rohekar
Published: Tuesday 30 September 2014

imageThe use of broad-spectrum antibiotics in children under the age of 24 months is associated with an increased risk of obesity in early childhood, says a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are effective against a wide range of bacteria and are administered in a variety of medical situations.

The study was based on previous research which suggested that obesity is associated with intestinal micro flora, which is the presence of a community of microorganisms in the digestive tracts. Antibiotics attack both disease-causing and harmless bacteria in the intestines, affecting microbial diversity and composition. 

The study was conducted by L Charles Bailey and his colleagues of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, USA. The team studied the doctors’ visits of 64,580 children, following up with them until they were five years old. 

Sixty-nine per cent of the children had been exposed to antibiotics before the age of 24 months with an average exposure of 2.3 episodes per child. In children with more than four exposures to broad-spectrum antibiotics, the researchers observed an increased risk of obesity. No association was seen between obesity and narrow-spectrum antibiotics. 

In children given broad-spectrum antibiotics, the prevalence of being overweight/obese was 23 per cent at age two years, 30 per cent at three years and 33 per cent at four years, at least two times the prevalence of obesity in all children.

The findings of the study support the adoption of specific treatment guidelines for common paediatric conditions which recommend using antibiotics only when required. They also support the preference for narrow-spectrum antibiotics (that target specific types of bacteria), unless broad-spectrum antibiotics are specifically indicated.


Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013

Association of all-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories

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