Antibiotics and Obesity: Do Antibiotics Play a Role?

While antibiotics may play a part in the development of obesity, it probably isn’t a big enough factor to forego the benefits of antibiotics.


As obesity rates rise, particularly in children, the medical community has become increasingly aware of its negative health effects. Because of obesity’s myriad consequences, prevention of obesity has become forefront in public health practice. Is it possible that obesity may be the result of more than just an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle? Perhaps! New research suggests a link between use of antibiotics and subsequent obesity.

Recent studies demonstrated that children given antibiotics before six months old were more likely to be overweight by age seven. How could this be? A New York Times article draws the parallel between antibiotics being used to boost growth in livestock and poultry and the possibility of antibiotics having the same growth-boosting effect on humans.

A recent study from New York University’s Langone Medical Center suggests that giving antibiotics to children during early development may change the child’s gut microbe environment and disrupt metabolism.

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“Our microbiome is a part of human physiology,” says New York University’s Dr. Martin Blaser, author of Missing Microbes and leader of the study. “We are doing things to change it, and those changes have consequences.”

In the study, conducted using mice, the results were dramatic. Mice who were fed antibiotics along with a normal diet gained twice as much body fat as the mice in the control group. These results suggest a similar, though muted, effect in humans. Antibiotics alter a person’s microbiome, the natural gut flora.

While antibiotics may play a part in the development of obesity, it probably isn’t a big enough factor to forego the benefits of antibiotics.

“In the whole universe of a child’s life, [antibiotic use] is probably not the key factor contributing to obesity…it is a modifiable risk factor,” says Dr. Charles Bailey of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

However, because studies showed an increased risk of obesity for toddlers who had received antibiotics as infants, Dr. Bailey recommends pediatricians use prudence in the prescribing of antibiotics. Additionally, he recommends that pediatricians closely monitor the weight of children who have been given antibiotics.

As more research is done concerning the link between antibiotics and obesity, it is likely that stricter and clearer guidelines concerning these drugs will emerge. In the meantime use prudence in you and your children’s consumption of antibiotics.


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Written by Bra Kay

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