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Broad-Spectrum Antibiotic Use in Kids Under Two is linked to Obesity Risk

Update Date: Sep 29, 2014 04:05 PM EDT

In a new study, researchers examined the effects of using broad-spectrum antibiotics on toddlers younger than 24 months. The team headed by L. Charles Bailey, M.D., Ph.D., of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania discovered a link between the use of these drugs and the children's risk of obesity.

For this study, the Dr. Bailey and his colleagues examined data taken from electronic health records of 64,580 children. The information, which spanned from 2001 to 2013, came from a network of primary care clinics. The children had yearly visits between the ages of 0 and 23 months and more than one visit between the ages of 24 and 59 months. They were followed up on until they turned five.

Overall, 69 percent of the children were treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics before turning 24-months-old. The average exposure for each toddler was 2.3 times. By the time the toddlers turned two, 10 percent of them were categorized as obese. The obesity rates for three-year-old and four-year-old children were 14 percent and 15 percent respectively. The overall prevalence rates for overweight and obese children at the ages of two, three and four were 23 percent, 30 percent and 33 percent respectively.

The researchers discovered that toddlers who were exposed four or more times to broad-spectrum antibiotics had an increased risk of obesity. There was no link between narrow-spectrum antibiotics and risk of obesity, however.

 "Because obesity is a multifactorial condition, reducing prevalence depends on identifying and managing multiple risk factors whose individual effects may be small but modifiable," the authors concluded according to the press release. "Our results suggest that the use of broad-spectrum outpatient antibiotics before age 24 months may be one such factor. This provides additional support for the adoption of treatment guidelines for common pediatric conditions that emphasize limiting antibiotic use to cases where efficacy is well demonstrated and preferring narrow-spectrum drugs in the absence of specific indications for broader coverage."

The study was published in JAMA.

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