Taking antibiotics as a child has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, especially if taken for long periods, a new study has found.
Scientists, who published their work in the ‘Gut’ journal, say taking drugs may alter gut bacteria, making a child more susceptible to putting on weight.
They also looked at antacids – used to curb excessive stomach acid – taken in the first two years of life and found they may have an effect, though less pronounced than other prescriptions.
This is not the first time alterations in gut bacteria have been linked to obesity, but it does reveal the impact that early exposure to medications can have.
Researchers examined data from more than 333,000 infants (collected between 2006-2013) to assess whether antibiotics, as well as histamine-2 receptor antagonist (H2RA) and proton pump inhibitor (PPI) could have an affect.
The research, which is the largest-reported study of its kind, focused on medicines prescribed to youngsters during the first two years of their lives –72.4 per cent had been prescribed an antibiotic, while 11.8 per cent had been prescribed an H2RA and 3.3 per cent a PPI.
Researchers calculated that youngsters were 26 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with childhood obesity if they had been prescribed an antibiotic.
Dr Max Davie, officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Childhood obesity levels in the UK are at crisis point with one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
“We are also battling antibiotic resistance so any avoidable doses throughout the life-course would be beneficial to the cause.”
Davie did stress the study has its limitations, being observational and not taking into account a mother’s weight and whether she smoked or had other underlying health conditions.
“We therefore need to acknowledge these findings and would welcome further review,” he said. “In the meantime, children who are obese must receive tailored support to help them return to a healthy weight. We therefore call on the government to ensure specialist obesity services are appropriately funded to prevent obese children today becoming obese adults in future.”