(HealthDay News) — Children who are given broad-spectrum antibiotics before the age of 2 may face a slightly higher risk of becoming obese during childhood, according to research published online September 29 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Charles Bailey, MD, from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues looked at the health records of nearly 65,000 children who were seen at clinics from 2001–2013. The researchers followed the children from birth to age 5. They tracked the height and weight of the children, and classified them as normal weight, overweight, or obese.

The researchers found that 69% of the children were given antibiotics before age 2. On average, the children had 2.3 episodes of antibiotic use. Children who had four or more exposures to antibiotics were 11% more likely to be obese than those who did not. The researchers also looked at whether the antibiotics prescribed were narrow-spectrum or broad-spectrum. “Kids who got broad-spectrum antibiotics had a 16% higher risk [of obesity than those who did not],” Bailey told HealthDay. No link was found between the narrow-spectrum drugs and obesity risk. The researchers took into account other factors affecting obesity, such as insurance status, use of steroids, and having an asthma diagnosis, and the association remained.

Bailey and his team decided to look at the possible link between early antibiotic use and obesity risk because previous research has suggested that a person’s intestinal microbe environment may be linked with obesity; antibiotic use may affect that environment. “What we see here is an association,” Bailey said. “We haven’t proven cause and effect.”

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