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There is accumulating evidence that suggests the colonization of the gut microbiota at an early age plays a pivotal role in the weight gain and development of obesity in the later life (between ages 12-14).

In a sub-study of the Growing up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcome (GUSTO) birth cohort, led by Professor Lee Yung Seng, Head of Paediatrics at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Group Director, Paediatrics, National University Health System (NUHS); and Dr Neerja Karnani, Adjunct Assistant Professor at NUS Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Senior Principal Investigator, A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), the team examined the implication of gut microbiota in the relationship between infant antibiotic exposure and childhood obesity.

Very few human studies to date have examined this association. Through the study, the team showed that use of antibiotics in infancy can raise the risk of obesity in early childhood, with the boys being slightly more vulnerable. The recurrent administration of antibiotics can disrupt the development of infant gut microbiota and serve as a potential mechanism for linking antibiotic exposure with later adiposity.

“Childhood obesity is a growing concern for the many adverse health effects it brings in adulthood such as Type 2 diabetes. The infancy period (1st year) represents part of a critical window of development which can have a lasting effect on subsequent health and disease later in life," explained Prof Lee.

The human gut relies on its microbial inhabitants to provide certain essential nutrients, aid digestion, and support their immune system. The acquisition of these friendly microbes starts immediately after birth and this process is highly sensitive to infant exposures, such as antibiotics use. Although it helps eliminate the pathogenic bacteria, it may also eliminate some good bacteria during the course of its action.

“Acquisition of gut microbes in infancy is a highly dynamic and vulnerable process. Use of antibiotics during this process can disrupt the normal colonization and development of infant gut microbiota, and this may consequently influence a child’s weight gain and obesity risk,” added Dr Karnani.

The findings of this study by NUS Medicine, A*STAR's SICS and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) were published in the scientific journal International Journal of Obesity in April 2020 and amplify the need for the careful consideration of the benefits and the risks of administrating antibiotics and the frequency of their use in early life.

Read more in the press release here.

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