Study Finds Antibiotics Linked To Weight Gain In Children

While the overuse of antibiotics has been a frequently studied and debated, not to mention controversial, issue due to the incidence and prevalence of superbugs such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), a new concern has been replicated in several studies that shows a correlation between antibiotic use in children and weight gain.

United States children are some of the heaviest children in the world, along with Australian children. It’s estimated that approximately one-third of American children are overweight or obese, and the numbers continue to rise. Obesity in children isn’t just a matter of being bullied in school, although studies have also shown that children who are overweight are much more likely to be bullied at school and suffer from self-esteem loss. Obese children are also at risk for what once was only an adult diagnosis: Type II Diabetes. Many children’s diets are carbohydrate dense but nutrient poor, which leads to malnutrition, despite being overweight. Obesity in children is also strongly associated with becoming an obese adult, which is concerning due to multiple co-morbidities such as heart disease and high cholesterol, as well as the development of certain cancers and infertility, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.

Although previous studies have linked obesity and antibiotic use in children, a robust new study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore has shown a correlation between childhood weight gain and antibiotic use. Researchers analyzed data from nearly 164,000 children in the United States, and found that about 21 percent of them received seven or more prescriptions for antibiotics during childhood. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections and strep throat, which are some of the most common reasons children are prescribed antibiotics.


The data showed that by age fifteen, children who had received more than seven antibiotics were approximately three pounds heavier than their peers, while attempting to control for other factors, according to Health. Three pounds may not seem like a lot, but when one considers than even a modest weight gain or loss affects cholesterol and blood pressure, those three pounds are alarming, according to lead researcher Dr. Brian Schwartz, a professor in the department of environmental health sciences at Hopkins.

“Your BMI [an estimate of body fat] may be forever altered by the antibiotics you take as a child. Our data suggest that every time we give an antibiotic to kids they gain weight faster over time. While the magnitude of the weight increase attributable to antibiotics may be modest by the end of childhood, our finding that the effects are cumulative raises the possibility that these effects continue and are compounded into adulthood.”

Previous studies have suggested that the use of antibiotics changes intestinal flora, or “good gut bacteria,” that helps to break down food. When antibiotics are given, food breaks down faster and allows for a higher consumption of calories, according to Newsmax. This may permanently change the child’s metabolic rate, leading to obesity. However, Schwartz said that the study just shows there is some type of link — how the antibiotics lead to weight gain is simply a theory at this point.


The findings of the study may lead physicians, as well as parents, to more carefully consider if a child really needs antibiotics. Often, antibiotics are given as a precautionary measure, and this may be something that can be eliminated until a child demonstrates a real need for antibiotics. It is also important to remember that antibiotics do not help viral illness, which most “colds” or respiratory infections are. Other studies have found that parents often “demand” antibiotics, believing their child will not get better without them. Not only is this untrue, children may become ill from too many antibiotics. Research findings of this study show that the negative outcomes of antibiotic overuse may be even worse than originally feared — obesity leads to a lifetime of medical problems and a shortened lifespan for most individuals.

[Images by Getty]