Antiobiotics may foster obesity

When our children are sick, we want medicine to make them better. But sometimes that is not the answer. Sometimes, it is best to let nature run its course.

Pediatricians have been warning for years against seeking antibiotics for illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds. Overuse of antibiotics promotes “superbugs” that are increasingly resistant to the medicines we have at our disposal.

Now, researchers are finding another reason parents should be wary of giving their children unnecessary medicines. Treating very young infants with antibiotics may predispose them to being overweight in childhood, according to a recent study of more than 10,000 children.

The study found that on average, children exposed to antibiotics from birth to 5 months of age weighed more later compared to children who weren’t given antibiotics. By 38 months of age, exposed children had a 22 percent greater likelihood of being overweight, according to research conducted at the New York University School of Medicine and published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers theorize that exposure to antibiotics may affect the microbes in the intestines that play a critical role in how we process calories and absorb nutrients, especially early in life.

For this study, the timing of exposure mattered: the results were most pronounced among children who received antibiotics before the age of 6 months. Children exposed to antibiotics from 6 months to 14 months did have slightly higher body mass than children who did not receive antibiotics, but not significantly so.

The researchers noted that the study does not prove that antibiotics in early life causes young children to be overweight. It only shows that a correlation exists. Further studies will need to be conducted to explore the issue of a direct causal link. But it certainly is something to think about as flu season approaches.

KiKi Bochi, an award-winning journalist, reads hundreds of health reports monthly to bring readers the best advice and latest developments in family health and child development.