Child Obesity Rates and the Link to Antibiotics
Health experts have been cautioning against the overuse of antibiotics, citing the growing concern of antibiotic-resistance in the community at large. A new study suggests that heavy use of antibiotics in childhood may also be linked to the alarming and burgeoning rates of U.S. child obesity.
Over the last twenty years, childhood rates of obesity have escalated, especially among kids in under-privileged communities. Some experts suggest that the rate of increase parallels the increase of antibiotic use in this particular age group. This trend of antibiotic use has only just begun to decline, thanks in part to public health warnings about drug resistance. Current data suggests that if current rates remain steady, 51 percent of the population in the U.S. will be obese by 2030. That translates into billions of healthcare costs and a nation that will face a number of chronic diseases associated with excess weight. The many different causes of obesity make effective treatment and sustained weight loss quite difficult and challenging.
Knowing that one factor linked to obesity is probably the overuse of antibiotics may allow for one specific obesity prevention tactic. Pediatricians and parents may be more motivated to refrain from antibiotic use for the many illnesses that are often viral in nature, if they know that heavy-handed antibiotic use in the child can encourage obesity risk.. In an effort to learn more about the pediatric community, obesity and its link to antibiotic use, a new national research project – The PCORnet Obesity Observational Study is being led by scientists at Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare (HPHC).
A network of pediatric researchers across the country, are using PCORnet, to glean information from a large data set sourced from 1.6 million children from 42 different healthcare systems. Scientists will be looking at how many times children were prescribed antibiotics over the first two years of life, and then track the children from age five to age ten to see their weight trajectories. Specifically they want to see how many children develop obesity in relation to higher use of antibiotics in those earlier years of life.
Unique to this particular research project is the fact that parents of obese children are considered part of the research team. One of the parents is even a lead investigator, and parents helped to create the study’s end goals. Parents will also help to shape how the study’s findings are shared with families so that the information is presented in a comprehensive and actionable way.
Prior studies indicate that antibiotics can impact the beneficial gut microbes or bacteria (decimating the good bacteria along with the illness-causing bacteria they target). This is the main theory that explains how gut microbe imbalance may lead to risk of obesity. The researchers in this new project want to understand if those gut microbe changes in young children are permanent or irreversible. Currently, many doctors now recommend taking probiotics along with a course of antibiotics, and continuing the probiotics for a few weeks after completing the antibiotic prescription.
As parents await the findings of this study, there are other ways to intercept and prevent childhood obesity including:
• Limit kids’ consumption of processed foods
• Limit foods with added sugar
• Make water and low fat or fat free milk the major beverages in a child’s diet
• Limiting juices and caloric, energy drinks
• Limit screen time
• Make sure kids are physically active daily
• Only using antibiotics for diagnosed bacterial infections
Quick reminder: World Food Day is on Sunday the 16th.