A study carried out at New York University School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics shows that children given antibiotics prior to five months of age have a significantly higher risk of obesity later in their lives.
The study researchers analyzed the health records of over 11,000 children born in Avon, UK between 1991 and 1992. They focused their attention on three groups: children given antibiotics before six months of age; those given antibiotics between six and 14 months of age and those given antibiotics between 15 and 23 months of age.
They followed these children for seven years and reviewed their weight at different periods. They found that children given antibiotics prior to six months of age were 22% more likely to be overweight at 38 months of age.
Furthermore, babies given antibiotics between the ages of 15 and 23 months had a significantly greater likelihood of being overweight at age seven - but this association was not as consistent as the previous one.
Given the relatively high prevalence of antibiotic exposure in infants and the growing concerns about childhood obesity, further studies are needed to better understand these associations and their implications for children’s body mass and overall health.
Health experts believe the association between obesity and antibiotics relates directly to the how intestinal bacteria affect our digestion. For instance, ‘probiotic’ bacteria from the Lactobacillus family are known to affect weight gain.
Specifically, Lactobacillus gasseri has been linked to weight loss among both animals and humans considered obese, while Lactobacillus plantarum has been linked to weight loss in animal research.
The key lies in how our gut's bacteria process our food. They help digest and restructure food molecules, enabling our food's nutrients to be better utilized by the body. They also help neutralize oxidative molecules in our foods - which are typically associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
From this study, it appears that early antibiotic treatment may adversely affect intestinal bacterial species in children - including Lactobacillus and others - and affect how they process food, absorb nutrients and get rid of toxins, leading to changes in body weight and having profound implications for their overall health.