New study correlates antibiotic use in infants and childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is increasing in the United States (Figure is from the CDC, not from the linked study)

Childhood obesity is increasing in the United States (Figure is from the CDC, not from the linked study)

One of my favorite things about working in the microbiome field is telling my friends and family about my work and about the human microbiome. In the days and weeks following my conversations, I often get emails from them about news articles they've read pertaining to the microbiome. Earlier this week, my good friend Kyle sent me an article about an important study published in JAMA Pediatrics that showed a correlation between antibiotic use in children during their first two years of life and early childhood obesity. While we see many studies in the field, there is so much going on and we can't see everything.  If any of our readers come across a study or article that may be of interest for the blog, we'd love to hear from you so please email us at

In this particular study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and University of Pennsylvania reviewed the health records of over 64,000 children seen between 2001 and 2013 in local Philadelphia health clinics. They found that children who were given several courses of antibiotics before the age of 2 (four or more courses), were more likely to become obese by the age of 5. Specifically, broad spectrum antibiotics were causing this increase in obesity while narrow spectrum antibiotics were not.  Narrow spectrum antibiotics target specific bacteria while broad spectrum antibiotics attack a much wider range of bacteria. 

People have long hypothesized and shown that the overuse of antibiotics is resulting in several public health problems in today's society, including obesity, due to their altering the composition of the gut microbiome, and this study correlates with those predictions.  Parents worry about the health of their child and may receive an antibiotic from a doctor "to be safe" in case the child has a bacterial infection that needs treatment. But children today are often being given antibiotics when they are not needed or may be receiving a broad spectrum antibiotics when a narrow spectrum antibiotic would suffice. 

We have learned countless times that overusing antibiotics, especially in children, is altering our gut bacteria and having serious implications on our health.  Antibiotics are absolutely critical to the health and wellbeing of children and adults around the world but it is important that we become better educated on this subject and ask better questions when we see a doctor, such as the likelihood of a certain infection being viral or bacterial.

In one our posts from earlier this month we talked about the research of one of our scientific advisors, Dr. Marty Blaser from NYU School of Medicine, that showed that antibiotics caused an increase in obesity in infantile mice. This is a very popular topic and I don't think this is going to be the last time we hear about it.

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