While the incidence of childhood obesity seems to have leveled off, it remains one of the biggest concerns for the future health of our population.
Every pediatric journal I read continues to highlight the concern and the aspects that are contributing to the increasing waistlines of our children. Almost immediately the need to have our children be more active was hoisted to the top of the interventions to be promoted. From Michelle Obama decrees, statewide Healthy Children initiatives and McDonald’s commercials, the push has been towards getting our kids moving more.
If only it was simple.
When that didn’t seem to be doing the trick, the focus has started to (rightfully so) shift to cutting back on calories and avoiding sugary snacks and drinks. And pediatricians have been leading the charge for getting our kids healthier.
But what if pediatricians are playing a major role in childhood obesity??
Regular readers of this blog will know where this is going. It is now crystal clear that the bacteria in our collective guts play a massive role in all aspects of our health, with obesity and autoimmune conditions topping the list.
I frequently say that mainstream medicine remains decades behind the medical research, but in few instances is this problem as glaring as the intertwined issue of gut bacteria, probiotics and antibiotics. It has only been recently that I have been reading in authors in medical journals discussing the overuse of antibiotics on the destruction of the normal bacteria in the gut.
The problem with antibiotic overuse has always been highlighted as antibiotic resistance. But while this IS a concern, it is dwarfed by the fact that antibiotics decimate the diversity of the bacteria in the gut. In this manner, antibiotics may greatly increase the risk of obesity, devastating autoimmune conditions and psychological disorders.
While we don’t know everything yet (and probably never will) about how the hundreds of different bacterial species in your gut interact with your health, current research is pointing to diversity as being very important. With this in mind, in this particular study, researchers looked at the links between antibiotic use in a group of 6114 boys and 5948 girls and the later development of obesity.
The results are a little scary:
- Children who were exposed to antibiotics in the first 2 years of life were, on average, heavier than kids who did not get antibiotics.
- The effect was strongest in those exposed in the first 6 months to macrolides (broad spectrum antibiotics–think Azithromycin, Chlarithromycin and Erythromycin). Specifically, boys were 72% more likely to be heavier and give 77% more likely to be heavier than the un-antibioticized children.
- In addition, those children who had more than one exposure to antibiotics were 80% more likely (boys) and 87% more likely (girls) to be overweight.
These are significant numbers. And it wouldn’t be so scary if antibiotics were used for life-threatening diseases instead of being used in conditions like low grade fevers, coughs and ear infections. It is rare for a child to escape the prescription pad in his or her first two years of life.
So, the next time your child’s pediatrician wants to write a prescription for an antibiotic, first find out if your pediatrician thinks that antibiotics could contribute to obesity in children. If your doctor gives you a strange look, it is absolutely time to find one that has cracked a medical journal in the past decade.