Antibiotics Given Early in Life Linked to Childhood Obesity…Again

While yesterday’s post discussed quadruple therapy for H pylori/need for multiple antibiotics, today’s post will focus on one of the downsides of antibiotic usage. For several years, this blog has highlighted numerous studies which show a link between antibiotics and later obesity (see related blog posts below).  Another study (FI Scott et al. Gastroenterol 2016; 151: 120-29), using a large database, quantifies this risk further.

This retrospective study used prospectively collected data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), using a cohort of 21,714 children from the UK.

Key findings:

  • In the cohort, 1306 (6.4%) were obese at age 4 years.
  • Antibiotic exposure was associated with an increased risk of obesity at 4 years, with odds ratio of 1.21. The OR went to 1.41 for 3-5 prescriptions.
  • Antifungal agents were not associated with an increased risk of obesity., OR 0.81

In the discussion the authors make a number of useful points:

  • In the U.S. between 2006-2008, there “were >10 million antibiotic prescriptions…annually for children without clear indication.” Thus, this is modifiable contributing factor to obesity.
  • The risk is modest with “approximately 1.2% absolute and 25% relative increase in the risk of early childhood obesity. This relationship is strongest when considering repeat exposures.”
  • Though this is a large study, the authors had many limitations, as expected in a retrospective study.  These included a lack of awareness of the indication for the antibiotic, potential selection bias, and difficulty adjusting for some confounders like breast feeding and physical activity.

The study is in agreement with data from agriculture.  Numerous studies have highlighted how antibiotics can improve weight gain in industry.  Here are some useful references:

  • Gaskins HR, et al. Antibiotics as growth promotants: mode of action. Animal Biotechnol 2002; 13: 29-42
  • Lassiter CA. Antibiotics as growth stimulants for dairy cattle: a review. J Dairy Sci 1955; 38: 1102-38.
  • Moore P, et al. Use of sulphasuccidine, streptothricin and streptomycin in nutrition studies with the chick. J Biol Chem 1946; 165: 437-41.
  • Cho I, et al. Antibiotics early in life alter the murine colonic microbiome and adiposity. Nature 2012; 488 (7413): 621-26.
  • Cox LM, et al. Altering the intestinal microbiota during a critical developmental window has lasting metabolic consequences. Cell 2014; 158: 705-21.

My take: Farmers have understood that antibiotics fatten up young animals for 70 years.  Yet, this basic information is NOT commonly understood by parents and many physicians. If this risk for obesity were widely known, it would help limit the use of antibiotics for well-recognized indications.

Related blog posts:

South Leads Obesity

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