Antibiotics Linked to Childhood Obesity

Taking multiple courses of common antibiotics before the age of 2 may increase a child’s risk of obesity.

By | October 1, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, RAYNATAWith rates of childhood obesity on the rise, researchers are searching for potential causes. One contributing factor, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics this week (September 29), may be antibiotics prescribed at a young age.

According to the study, which surveyed health records of more than 64,000 children, antibiotic use before the age of 2 is associated with increased obesity risk before age 5. Those children who were given four or more courses of common antibiotics before age 2 were at particularly high risk of developing childhood obesity. Strikingly, 69 percent of children studied had been given antibiotics in their first two years of life.

“Our hope is that we can find out what the risk factors are in early childhood and do a better job not just at preventing this, but of identifying the kids . . . who then can change their path by changing their lifestyle and changing the healthcare they get,” study author Charles Bailey of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told Time.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which kill a range of different bacteria, appeared to drive this association; narrow-spectrum antibiotics did not show a significant link with childhood obesity. “[I]f we use broad-spectrum antibiotics a lot of the time, are we creating unintended effects down the road that we didn’t appreciate when we were sitting in the office?” Bailey told Time.

One possible mechanism that would link antibiotic use and obesity are the drugs’ effects on the body’s commensal microorganisms, which have been linked to metabolic changes. “It’s coming in every direction. We’re really assaulting our microbiome,” Martin Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University and author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, told USA Today. “Right now, everyone is giving antibiotics, thinking they are ‘free,’” he adds. “Once there is evidence that they have costs, the calculation begins to change.”

Clarification (October 2, 2014): The subhead for this story has been updated to clarify that this is an observational study, and antibiotic use was simply correlated with increased risk of obesity. The Scientist regrets the confusion.

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Avatar of: Seth Crosby

Seth Crosby

Posts: 15

October 1, 2014

"Taking multiple courses of common antibiotics before the age of 2 increases a child’s risk of obesity."

Right there, in your subtitle, you break the rule every science writer should be mumbling in her sleep!!  I'm sure you'll get other comments to the same effect.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

 

Avatar of: altruschel

altruschel

Posts: 1

October 1, 2014

Did this study consider that young children with frequent infections may have had limited activity for long periods, perhaps even have been bed-ridden, thus getting little to no exercise? Perhaps these sick children may not have felt like eating and were fed high calorie sweetened foods to encourage eating. Did the study consider diet? Did the study control for activity levels of young children who have led a sedentary life for awhile because of serious infection? Did their activity levels increase to "normal" after recovery?

And, I agree with Seth. The headline sensationalizes the report, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

October 1, 2014

Thank you, Seth Crosby. Alas, it is not only younger science journalists, but also researchers, who are not adequately trained in scientific, logical and critical thinking skills. 

All of you out there, repeat these words every night before you go to sleep:

"STATISTICAL CORRELATIONS DO NOT PROVE SPECIFIC OR DIRECT CAUSE-AND-EFFECT RELATIONSHIPS."

 

 

October 1, 2014

Thank you, Seth Crosby. Alas, it is not only younger science journalists, but also researchers, who are not adequately trained in scientific, logical and critical thinking skills. 

All of you out there, repeat these words every night before you go to sleep:

"STATISTICAL CORRELATIONS DO NOT PROVE SPECIFIC OR DIRECT CAUSE-AND-EFFECT RELATIONSHIPS

From Wikipedia: The rooster crows immediately before sunrise, therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.

 

Avatar of: T S Raman

T S Raman

Posts: 50

Replied to a comment from Seth Crosby made on October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014

Yeah! Not only in the subtitle, but in the text also: "antibiotic use before the age of 2 is associated with increased obesity risk before age 5." emphasis added

Avatar of: Seth Crosby

Seth Crosby

Posts: 15

Replied to a comment from T S Raman made on October 2, 2014

October 2, 2014

The term 'associated' is fine in that it does not suggest or reject causality.

Avatar of: Jef

Jef

Posts: 786

Replied to a comment from Seth Crosby made on October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014

Hi Seth. Thanks for pointing out how the subhead of this story could be misleading. We have adjusted the language to emphasize that this was an observational study and that the use of antibiotics in young children was merely correlated with an increased risk of obesity.

Thanks for reading!

Jef Akst, The Scientist

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