Antibiotic use in infants linked to childhood obesity: NUS study

The use of antibiotics disrupts the ecosystem of microorganisms in the gut.

Joshua Lee| May 19, 03:04 PM

The use of antibiotics in very young children -- from birth to 12 months -- has been linked to higher risks of childhood obesity and increased adiposity (severe obesity) in early to mid-childhood.

This finding was from a study conducted by a team of researchers from Singapore’s NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine), Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).

It was published in the scientific journal International Journal of Obesity in April 2020, NUS Medicine announced in a press release.

Data from the study was derived from questionnaires with parents, body composition measurements, and analysis of stool samples.

Antibiotics affect the growth of beneficial microorganisms

Past studies found that early exposure to antibiotics affects metabolism in mice and disrupts the ecosystem of microorganisms in their digestive tracts.

This leads to metabolic abnormalities including obesity in mice.

The human gut relies on microorganisms to provide essential nutrients, aid digestion, and support the immune system.

Humans start acquiring these microorganisms immediately after birth.

While antibiotics can hep to eliminate bacteria, they eliminate some good microorganisms as well.

The repeated use of antibiotics in infants can disrupt the development of microorganisms in their guts.

It serves as a "potential mechanism" for linking antibiotic exposure with later adiposity, said NUS Medicine.

Boys were also found to be "slightly more vulnerable" to the risk of childhood obesity with the use of antibiotics in infancy.

Childhood obesity a growing concern

“Childhood obesity is a growing concern for the many adverse health effects it brings in adulthood such as Type 2 diabetes. The infancy period (first year) represents part of a critical window of development which can have a lasting effect on subsequent health and disease later in life,” said Prof Lee Professor Lee Yung Seng, who led the study,

Lee is Head of Paediatrics at NUS Medicine, Group Director, Paediatrics, National University Health System (NUHS) and Principal investigator at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS).

"The findings of this study amplify the need for the careful consideration of the benefits versus the risks of administrating antibiotics and the frequency of their use in early life," said NUS Medicine.

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