Antibiotic exposure during pregnancy may increase risk of obesity in children

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of a woman's microbiome during pregnancy.  Microbiota transfer from the mother to the fetus is critical toward development, having potential downstream health implications for the child.  Researchers in Denmark have recently pointed to the significance of the maternal microbiome with respective to risk of developing obesity during childhood.  Specifically, prenatal infection and neonatal antibiotic use are both associated with childhood obesity.  Researchers wanted to explore further and determine whether or not antibiotic administration prenatally is associated with childhood obesity.  

9,886 Danish children between the ages of 7 and 16 years old were analyzed over 10 years, and information was collected from routine school anthropometric evaluations.  To determine which of the children were exposed to antibiotics prenatally, prescription dispensations and infection-related hospital admissions information was collected from the mothers’ of the children.  Of all the children assessed, 3,280 – or 33% - were exposed to antibiotics prenatally. 

Among all 9,886 children, 768 (7.8%) were overweight as determined by body-mass index ratios.  Increase overweight incidence was correlated to antibiotic use during the second and third trimester.  309 (3.1%) children were considered obese.  Children with obesity were associated with increases in the number of antibiotic prescriptions for the mother.  Overall, antibiotic exposure prenatally was associated with a 26-29% increase in prevalence of both overweight and obesity in childhood. 

These findings point to an interesting relationship that deserves further exploration.  As mentioned, antibiotics have been shown to disrupt microbiome transfer from mother to fetus.  In addition, microbe-associated molecular patterns in development have been shown to be disrupted by antimicrobials.  These agents could also possibly disrupt endocrine and metabolic systems, leading to impaired energy homeostasis and metabolism, and consequently downstream weight issues. 

Obesity is becoming a major health concern for the global population.  Elucidating more information on the molecular underpinnings of the association between antibiotic use and prenatal development could help reveal more information, and perhaps create awareness of maternal antibiotic intake during pregnancy and/or encourage therapeutic intervention in children with obesity. 

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