Babies given antibiotics face greater risk of childhood obesity
ANTIBIOTICS given to babies under the age of six months increase the risk of obesity in later childhood, a new study has found.
Health experts in Ireland are calling for more research to be done after the study published in the US showed that antibiotics have a damaging effect on a child's future metabolism.
Scientists at New York University found that low doses of penicillin in young mice slowed the rate of metabolism due to a change the way in which microbes in the gut work.
Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Limerick, Clodagh O'Gorman, said that anything related to the causes of childhood obesity should be further examined.
However, she doesn't think the research published in the States calls for a policy change in antibiotic protocol, mainly due to a lack of human evidence. "These findings certainly warrant more research, but it doesn't warrant a policy change at this moment in time," said Prof O'Gorman.
She highlighted the difficulty that doctors have in first diagnosing an infant, who is presents with illness.
"Children under six months old are a very specific group of people, unlike any other because they have certain vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.
"Sometimes they only present with a temperature and GPs have to wait for an illness to progress in order to find out what is wrong," she added. Sometimes parents have an influence in the prescription of antibiotics, when they believe their child needs definitive treatment.
Paul Cotter at the Teagasc Food Research Centre said "anxious parents can prove eager for antibiotics, when there isn't necessarily a need for it".
Prof O'Gorman explained parents have "expectations" to have their child treated and in general, "antibiotics are an important tool in the way we treat children".
Both experts agreed that it's imperative that children suffering from serious illnesses be given antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
Mr Cotter also said despite the research published producing interesting results, new studies must now be planned that focus on the impact of antibiotics on humans. Research is ongoing in Ireland at the moment to try and find a way of identifying a way of re-introducing essential microbes into a child's system, after they have been damaged by antibiotic use.
Catherine Stanton is currently leading a team of scientists in the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork, who have started testing the effects of antibiotics on children's health.