UK scientists cautious of US research findings linking antibiotics with childhood obesity

Posted: 01/10/2014

UK scientists are cautious of recent US study which points to a possible link between children who have had four or more courses of antibiotics by the age of two and a 10% higher risk of being obese. 

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Bloomberg School of Public Health followed 64,500 American children until they reached the age of five.  By the time they were 24 months old, almost 70% of the children had been prescribed two courses of antibiotics.  Those who had been prescribed four or more courses of antibiotics were found to be at a 10% higher risk of being obese than those who had been prescribed fewer antibiotics.

The US researchers also found that the type of antibiotic prescribed seemed to make a difference with those children who were given drugs targeted at a specific infection less likely to put on weight than those given a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

However, according to the BBC webpage that reported the US research, a note of caution has been raised by scientists in the UK.  They warn that the US study does not show that antibiotics cause obesity directly and recommend that children continue to use antibiotics. 

Professor Graham Bridge of the University of Southampton commented: "Many more studies are needed to explain the reasons behind the link. It would be a concern if parents took from this that they ought to be reluctant to allow antibiotic use in their children… The key risk factors for childhood obesity are over-consumption of high energy, nutrient-poor foods and lack of exercise."

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