Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – Giving babies antibiotics too early may increase their chances of being overweight, according to new research.
Specifically, infants exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are 22 percent more likely to be overweight between the ages of 10 months and 3 years. Their weight tends to return to average, however, by the time they are 7, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity on Tuesday.
This effect on the child’s body mass appears to be dependent upon the timing of the antibiotics. The exposure to antibiotics later in childhood, while the child is between 6 and months and 3 years old is not associated with increased body mass.
Researchers say the reason for the weight gain could be that antibiotics at such an age may change the delicate balance of bacteria in infants’ digestive tracts.
“Unnecessary antibiotic use can disrupt healthy bacteria that live in our intestine,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the study’s primary author and associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. “If we have a disruption in the microbes in this gut...it can lead to over-absorption of calories and obesity.”
The study sample included 11,532 children from the United Kingdom whose parents agreed to the study before the babies were born. Researchers checked the height, weight, and antibiotics use of these children at birth and then after approximately seven weeks, 10 months, 20 months, 38 months, and seven years.
The researchers also took into account other factors, such as the weight of a baby’s parents, whether the mother smoked while pregnant, the parents’ socioeconomic status, and what the baby ate. Even when they did this though, the relationship between antibiotic use in these infants and their weight gain remained.
Physicians were quick to note that the study does not mean that antibiotics should not be used in these infants when they are clearly needed. However, doctors said that all too often antibiotics are used inappropriately and this practice can have real consequences for babies’ health.