Recent research implicates antibiotic use as a potential contributor to child obesity risk. In this narrative review, we examine current observational evidence on the relation between antibiotic use in early childhood and subsequent measures of child body mass.
We searched PubMed, Web of Science and the Cochrane Library to identify studies that assessed antibiotic exposure before 3 years of age and subsequent measures of body mass or risk of overweight or obesity in childhood.
We identified 13 studies published before October 2017, based on a total of 6 81 332 individuals, which examined the relation between early life antibiotic exposure and measures of child body mass. Most studies did not appropriately account for confounding by indication for antibiotic use. Overall, we found no consistent and conclusive evidence of associations between early life antibiotic use and later child body mass [minimum overall adjusted odds ratio (aOR) reported: 1.01, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.98–1.04, N = 2 60 556; maximum overall aOR reported: 2.56, 95% CI 1.36–4.79, N = 616], with no clinically meaningful increases in weight reported (maximum increase: 1.50 kg at 15 years of age). Notable methodological differences between studies, including variable measures of association and inclusion of confounders, limited more comprehensive interpretations.
Evidence to date is insufficient to indicate that antibiotic use is an important risk factor for child obesity, or leads to clinically important differences in weight. Further comparable studies using routine clinical data may help clarify this association.