Thursday, August 30, 2012

Antibiotics and Childhood Obesity

We typically link an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise to childhood obesity, but studies increasingly point to antibiotic use as a culprit, too. 

We should definitely start early with our kids in important areas such as modeling a healthy diet and lifestyle—including exercise—as well as instilling certain values. What we shouldn’t start them on, however, is antibiotics for lots of reasons, including possibly setting them on the road to obesity. Simply put, antibiotics adversely alter gut flora and create an internal environment ripe for weight gain.

Co-author of the study, Leonardo Trasande of the New York University School of Medicine, said, “We typically consider obesity an epidemic grounded in unhealthy diet and exercise, yet increasingly, studies suggest it’s more complicated. 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." 

The study adds to a growing body of research warning of the potential dangers of antibiotics, especially for children.  Specifically, this study’s findings showed that children treated with antibiotics in the first five months of life weighed more for their height than those who weren’t treated with antibiotics. By 3 years and 2 months of age, the children treated with antibiotics had a 22 percent greater likelihood of being overweight. 

NYU’s Jan Blustein, who also co-authored the study, said, “For many years now, farmers have known that antibiotics are great at producing heavier cows for market. While we need more research to confirm our findings, this carefully conducted study suggests that antibiotics influence weight gain in humans, especially children."

Just a few weeks ago, Dr. John Morton, Director of Bariatric Surgery at Stanford, also discussed the overuse of antibiotics in children and its possible link to childhood obesity. (See video below)

Additionally, the journal Pediatrics pointed out that of the 40 million antibiotic prescriptions written by U.S. pediatricians in recent years, 10 million were unnecessary for conditions that wouldn't respond to antibiotics—such as the flu, asthma or ear infections. While antibiotic prescriptions have decreased in the past year or so, they’re still over-prescribed.

Giving antibiotics to our kids also alters their immunity because antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria. Just one round of antibiotics can temporarily or permanently adversely affect and change the infant’s immune system, how the child makes immune cells and even the child’s neurological makeup. 

Those ill effects can happen to adults, too, so avoid antibiotics if at all possible. They’re just too risky.