Childhood Antibiotic Overuse Causes Teenage Weight Gain
Obesity among children has been growing rapidly, paralleled with an explosion of antibiotic use among kids. Is this a coincidence?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of U.S. children between 2 and 19 years old are obese. And according to the American Heart Association, about one-third of U.S. children are overweight.
That is a significant part of our childhood population. And these stats will undoubtedly lead to an even greater obesity problem as these kids turn into their adult years.
Solutions have ranged from getting more exercise and play-time to eating more nutritious meals. And let’s not forget eating less.
But these aren’t the only solutions to the problem. One potential solution has only recently appeared on the radar: Childhood antibiotic use.
Link between teenage weight gain and antibiotic use
New research from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health has found that children given more than 7 antibiotics will gain more weight than their peers on average.
The researchers analyzed electronic health records for 163,820 children between 2001 and 2012. The children were between the ages of 3 and 18 years old.
The research found that by 15 years of age, one-fifth of the children had received seven or more prescriptions of antibiotics by doctors. And those who had received this many also weighed more by age 15 – by an average of three pounds.
Weight gains increase with years
While this doesn’t seem like much, this is an average, which means that many kids had extremely more weight gain while others didn’t have as much. Furthermore, the research found that the weight gain effects increased with age. This means their weight gain based upon antibiotic use will only increase into their adult years. This reality was confirmed by Dr. Brian Schwartz, a professor at Johns Hopkins:
“While the magnitude of the weight increase attributable to antibiotics may be modest by the end of childhood, our finding that the effects are cumulative raises the possibility that these effects continue and are compounded into adulthood,” Dr. Schwartz stated.
The factory farming system has known about this connection between weight gain and antibiotic use for decades. Dosing animals with more antibiotics has been linked to more animal weight among both studies and business practices.
The research also found that greater use of macrolide-type antibiotics were more significantly linked with weight gain.
Advocating reduced antibiotic use
While the medical media have been advocating for reduced antibiotic prescriptions among doctors, the statistics are still showing increased antibiotic use among humans. Dr. Schwartz underscored this issue:
“Often parents demand antibiotics for apparent cold viruses and other ailments that will not be helped by them. There have long been concerns that excessive antibiotic use is leading to bacterial strains that are becoming resistant to these potentially lifesaving drugs. But this study suggests that antibiotics can have long-term effects in individual children.”
Dr. Schwartz also advocates for significant reductions of antibiotic prescriptions:
“Systematic antibiotics should be avoided except when strongly indicated,” he added.
This is not the first study that has found a link between obesity and antibiotics. As we discussed previously, a UK study found that infants given antibiotics during their first few months of life were significantly more likely to be overweight by the age of seven years old.
We also discussed the mechanisms involved in this weight gain, and in my book, we discuss the research showing how probiotics have been shown to help weight reduction as well.
Schwartz BS, Pollak J, Bailey-Davis L, Hirsch AG, Cosgrove SE, Nau C, Kress AM, Glass TA, Bandeen-Roche K. Antibiotic use and childhood body mass index trajectory. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Oct 21. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.218.
Johns Hopkins Release. “Children Who Take Antibiotics Gain Weight Faster Than Kids Who Don’t.” October 12, 2015.