Antibiotic Use in Infants Tied to Overweight Later: Study

TUESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Infants who receive antibiotics before they're 6 months old may have a higher risk of being overweight later in childhood, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at data on more than 11,500 British children, and found that those who were given antibiotics between birth and 5 months of age weighed more for their height than children who didn't receive antibiotics in those first few months of life.

By age 38 months, the children who received antibiotics between birth and 5 months of age were 22 percent more likely to be overweight than those who didn't receive antibiotics.

At age 38 months, children who received antibiotics between ages 6 months and 14 months did not have a significantly higher-than-normal body-mass index (BMI) -- a measure of body fat based on height and weight -- than those who did not receive antibiotics in that time period, the NYU School of Medicine researchers found.

At age 7, children exposed to antibiotics between ages 15 months to 23 months had a somewhat higher-than-normal BMI for their age and gender, but were not significantly more likely to be overweight or obese.

The study was published in the Aug. 21 online issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

The findings do not prove that receiving antibiotics early in life can cause children to be overweight, only that there is a correlation, the researchers said. Further studies are needed to determine whether there is a direct causal link, they added.

"We typically consider obesity an epidemic grounded in unhealthy diet and exercise, yet increasingly studies suggest it's more complicated," study co-leader Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine, said in an NYU news release.

"Microbes in our intestines may play critical roles in how we absorb calories, and exposure to antibiotics, especially early in life, may kill off healthy bacteria that influence how we absorb nutrients into our bodies, and would otherwise keep us lean," Trasande explained.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about antibiotics and children.

SOURCE: NYU Langone Medical Center/New York University School of Medicine, news release, Aug. 21, 2012

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