Importance: Early-life antibiotic exposure has been associated with increased adiposity in animal models, mediated through the gut microbiome. Infant antibiotic exposure is common and often inappropriate. Studies of the association between infant antibiotics and childhood weight gain have reported inconsistent results.
Objective: To assess the association between early-life antibiotic exposure and childhood weight gain.
Design and setting: Retrospective, longitudinal study of singleton births and matched longitudinal study of twin pairs conducted in a network of 30 pediatric primary care practices serving more than 200,000 children of diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Participants: Children born between November 1, 2001, and December 31, 2011, at 35 weeks' gestational age or older, with birth weight of 2000 g or more and in the fifth percentile or higher for gestational age, and who had a preventive health visit within 14 days of life and at least 2 additional visits in the first year of life. Children with complex chronic conditions and those who received long-term antibiotics or multiple systemic corticosteroid prescriptions were excluded. We included 38,522 singleton children and 92 twins (46 matched pairs) discordant in antibiotic exposure. Final date of follow-up was December 31, 2012.
Exposure: Systemic antibiotic use in the first 6 months of life.
Main outcomes and measures: Weight, measured at preventive health visits from age 6 months through 7 years.
Results: Of 38,522 singleton children (50% female; mean birth weight, 3.4 kg), 5287 (14%) were exposed to antibiotics during the first 6 months of life (at a mean age of 4.3 months). Antibiotic exposure was not significantly associated with rate of weight change (0.7%; 95% CI, -0.1% to 1.5%; P = .07, equivalent to approximately 0.05 kg; 95% CI, -0.004 to 0.11 kg of added weight gain between age 2 years and 5 years). Among 92 twins (38% female; mean birth weight, 2.8 kg), the 46 twins who were exposed to antibiotics during the first 6 months of life received them at a mean age of 4.5 months. Antibiotic exposure was not significantly associated with a weight difference (-0.09 kg; 95% CI, -0.26 to 0.08 kg; P = .30).
Conclusions and relevance: Exposure to antibiotics within the first 6 months of life compared with no exposure was not associated with a statistically significant difference in weight gain through age 7 years. There are many reasons to limit antibiotic exposure in young, healthy children, but weight gain is likely not one of them.