Parents, are you worried about childhood obesity? Here’s alarming news. Repeated use of antibiotics has been linked to weight gain in children and adult obesity later in life, reported Health Day on Oct. 22. Overuse of antibiotics in treatment of illness could cause children to have weight problems for the rest of their lives, reported researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Study authors analyzed data from some 164,000 U.S. kids. Results showed that 21 percent of the children studied had received seven or more prescriptions for antibiotics during childhood.
By age 15, teens who had been on seven or more rounds of antibiotics weighed about 3 pounds more than those who hadn’t been treated with antibiotics. A 3-pound weight gain isn’t obesity, but it can lead to it when coupled with other factors like nutrition, poor health, lack of exercise (antibiotics often make children tired and lethargic). Johns Hopkins researchers believed that weight gain among participants had underestimated and that data was incomplete. Also in childhood, weight gain of 3 pounds is more significant than it is in adulthood.
And most worrisome of all, weight gain in children outside normal parameters sets a dangerous precedent. Obesity occurs like a snowball rolling downhill: it gains momentum. The more overweight a person becomes, the faster they gain and the more they gain. Obesity is a vicious cycle and one scientists don’t want children to start. Weight gain from antibiotics may be small by the end of childhood; but the Johns Hopkins study suggested that effects are cumulative and potentially compounded in adult weight gain.
Johns Hopkins study leader Dr. Brian Schwartz explained that BMI (body mass index) might be forever altered by antibiotics taken as children. Data suggests that every time children are given an antibiotic they gain weight faster over time. The Johns Hopkins study didn’t demonstrate why antibiotics cause weight gain only that there is a connection.
Earlier research showed that antibiotics permanently alter the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. This changes how food is digested and how many calories are absorbed and stored as fat. These complementary studies fit more pieces in the puzzle of why so many more Americans, and their children, are overweight. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight and over one third are clinically obese.
Schwartz summed up findings, saying that “Systematic antibiotics should be avoided, except when strongly indicated. From everything we are learning, it is more important than ever for physicians to be the gatekeepers and keep their young patients from getting drugs that not only won’t help them but may hurt them in the long run,”