Antibiotics may cause obesity in young children, new study finds

Early exposure to antibiotics and antacids could increase the likelihood of developing obesity

Researchers say that the drugs, particularly if taken for lengthy periods, may alter gut microbes associated with weight gain.

This is not the first time alterations in gut bacteria have been linked to obesity, but it does reveal the impact that early exposure to medications can have.

For the study, researchers from Walter Reed National Military Medical in the United States examined 333,353 infants among which almost 46,993 children became obese.

Being prescribed antibiotics during early childhood increases obesity risk by 26 per cent, irrespective of the type of antibiotic.

The research, which is the largest-reported study of its kind, focused on medicines prescribed to youngsters during the first two years of their lives -72.4 per cent had been prescribed an antibiotic, while 11.8 per cent had been prescribed an H2RA and 3.3 per cent a PPI.

And certain drugs, such as antibiotics and acid suppressants - histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2RA) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) - can alter the type and volume of bacteria in the gut.

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The survey showed there was a particular risk for boys and for children born by caesarean section, who are believed to miss out on important gut bacteria transferred through the birth canal. There was an association between antibiotic prescriptions and obesity (hazard ratio, 1.26). For each additional class of antibiotic prescribed the risk increased.

Acid suppressants were also associated with a heightened obesity risk, although to a lesser extent, and this association strengthened for each 30-day supply prescribed. And potentially influential information on how much the children's mothers weighed, and whether they smoked or had other underlying conditions wasn't available.

This new study, linking antibiotic and antacid use with obesity, is extremely interesting, but does not prove causation.

Study author Dr Christopher Stark, of William Beaumont Army Medical Centre in Texas, said: "There is an important therapeutic role for microbiota-altering medications".

Researchers also calculated that youngsters were 26% more likely to be diagnosed with childhood obesity if they had been prescribed an antibiotic.

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