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Early Use of Antibiotics Linked with Childhood Obesity

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A surprising new study finds that babies treated with antibiotics may be predisposed to childhood obesity later in life. This study, conducted by teams at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service as well as researchers at NYU School of Medicine, looked at nearly 10,000 kids, finding that children with a higher-than-normal weight were also treated with antibiotics before six months of age.

Both teams of researchers conducted two separate studies on the use of antibiotics in infants and determined changes in the bacteria in the intestine could be responsible for this increased risk. One study was performed on mice and the other on humans.

The findings of both studies show that the timing of antibiotics is important, as exposure before six months of age dramatically increases the risk of obesity later in childhood.

The first study, published in Nature, examined how mice responded to low doses of antibiotics, using the same type of treatment farm animals receive in the U.S. For the past 60 years, many farm animals in the United States have received low-dose antibiotics because it’s been found to promote growth and increase size by up to 10%. While researchers found this treatment didn’t make the mice larger, they did become more obese.

Using genetic methods, the intestinal bacteria in the mice was examined and compared to untreated mice. Certain bacteria species already shown to be linked to obesity in mice were found in a much higher concentration in the mice treated with antibiotics. When the metabolism of the bacteria was examined, researchers found certain genes responsible for fat synthesis, which have a much higher level of activity in the antibiotics-treated mice.

The other study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, attempted to demonstrate these same findings in humans. Statistics were gathered on 11,000 children in England and researchers discovered that kids who had antibiotics treatment during the first 6 months of life also had a higher incidence of obesity as children. The weight difference was highest at 3 years of age and began to drop off by the age of 7. At that point, obesity rates were about the same as antibiotics treatment during the todlder years.

These differences in weight remained even after the experts accounted for factors like physical activity and diet. While the findings are still considered preliminary, they offer valuable insight into the possible consequences of antibiotics use in young children. Bacteria play a major role in the body’s ability to uptake nutrients and altering their levels through the use of antibiotics should be weighed carefully. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and do not discriminate between helpful bacteria in the intestines and the harmful bacteria they are designed to target.

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