Our society’s love affair with antibiotics is starting to turn sour, and a new study suggests that overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the first two years of life may even contribute to childhood obesity. Researchers scanned the medical records of over 64,000 children and noted that when antibiotics were given in the first two years of life, the risk for obesity before that child’s fifth birthday was 11% higher. Children that had received more than four courses of broad-spectrum antibiotics early on had a 17% higher risk of obesity before their fifth birthday. So are antibiotics to blame for our epidemic of childhood obesity? And how could this be possible?
The first two years of a child’s life are a turbulent one for the bacteria that live in gut. Changes in food and environmental exposures all contribute to solidifying an ‘adult’ set of bacteria around the age of two or three. It is thought that interfering with the natural balance of bacteria at such an early age can favour a population that can lead to obesity. The linkages between the intestinal flora and obesity are well known; the most famous of recent studies – performed in rats – found that transplanting the bacteria from an obese rat to a lean one caused the lean rat to gain weight. However, the connections between obesity and gut bacteria are complex. Bacteria influence how much energy you absorb from your food and can promote insulin resistance; however, the food you eat also influences the type of bacteria that survive in your colon.
I believe strongly that childhood obesity is an issue of environment. We need to teach our children how to eat whole foods, low in sugars and to spend more time being naturally active – largely by modeling this behaviour ourselves. However, we also need to be mindful of any medication that might interfere with a healthy gut flora. While this study gives us more reason to be cautious of antibiotic use, it was not the only factor associated with obesity in the study. Other variables such as being male or living in an inner city environment also contributed to obesity risk. If you are worried about fostering a healthy weight in your children, why not book a nutrition consultation to learn more about how a whole food approach to healthy eating can foster a healthier future for your entire family?
The original research review was published in JAMA – Association of Antibiotics in Infancy With Early Childhood Obesity
Learn more about the emerging role of gut bacteria in obesity – The American Journal of Gastroenterology Supplements