(RxWiki News) It's tempting to think that medicine, like antibiotics, can only help people recover from illness. But researchers are still learning about other possible effects of antibiotic use.
A recent study has found a link between receiving antibiotics as a young infant and later being an overweight child.
"Only use antibiotics as directed by a doctor."
The study was led by Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine, and Jan Blustein, MD, PhD, a professor of population health and medicine, both at the New York University School of Medicine.
The study involved a group of 11,532 children born between 1991 and 1992 in Avon, United Kingdom.
The researchers investigated the health records for these children and divided the data into three age ranges. They compared the data of the children when they were born through 5 months old, the data from 6 months through 14 months and the data from 15 months to 23 months.
The children's weight was gathered for when they were 6 weeks old, 10 months old, 20 months old, 3 years old and 7 years old.
The researchers discovered that children who had received antibiotics before they were 6 months old were more likely to be overweight as they grew older.
They were slightly heavier than their peers between 10 and 20 months old, and they were 22 percent more likely to be overweight when they were 3 years old.
Children who took antibiotics between 6 months old and 14 months old did not show a similar link to a higher risk of obesity.
The authors suspect that the antibiotics may play a part in changing the bacteria in a baby's gut.
Recent research has led some researchers to believe that an individual's personal cocktail of bacteria in their digestive system may influence their risk of obesity.
"We typically consider obesity an epidemic grounded in unhealthy diet and exercise, yet increasingly studies suggest it's more complicated," said Dr. Trasande.
"Microbes in our intestines may play critical roles in how we absorb calories, and exposure to antibiotics, especially early in life, may kill off healthy bacteria that influence how we absorb nutrients into our bodies, and would otherwise keep us lean," he said.
They also noted that their findings were similar to a previous study's findings and to findings related to antibiotic use in farm animals, which can influence the animals' weight.
The study was published August 21 in the International Journal of Obesity. The research was funded by a grant from the NYU Global Public Health Research Challenge Fund and grants from the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.