Importance: Antibiotic exposures in early life may affect weight by altering gut microbiota, potentially increasing the likelihood of childhood obesity.
Objective: To examine whether repeated antibiotic exposure by age 48 months is associated with higher body mass index (BMI) at age 54 months.
Design, setting, and participants: This research was undertaken within a prospective cohort study in New Zealand (Growing Up in New Zealand) that recruited 6853 children antenatally during 2009 to 2010. At the 54-month follow-up, 5734 of 6156 children (93%) had their weight and height measured. Community pharmacy antibiotic dispensing data were obtained from the New Zealand Pharmaceutical Collection database for children whose parents consented to external data linkage. The analytic sample comprised singletons with 54-month weight and height measurements, community antibiotic dispensing and birth weight data, gestational age greater than 27 weeks, and no congenital anomalies. Data analysis took place from 2017 to 2018.
Exposures: Antibiotic exposure (yes or no), the number of dispensings, age at first exposure, and timing (age) of exposures between birth and age 48 months.
Main outcomes and measures: World Health Organization BMI-for-age z scores; and International Obesity Task Force overweight and obesity cutoff points that pass through adult BMI values of 25 and 30.
Results: Of the 5128 singletons (2622 [51%] male; mean [SD] birth weight of 3527  g), 4886 (95%) had an antibiotic prescription by age 48 months and 437 (9%) had obesity at age 54 months. Adjusted mean (SE) BMI-for-age z scores increased significantly with the number of antibiotic dispensings for 4 to 6, 7 to 9, and more than 9 dispensings (unexposed, 0.87 [0.09]; 1-3 exposures, 0.92 [0.06] [P = .57]; 4-6 exposures, 1.06 [0.06] [P = .02]; 7-9 exposures, 1.06 [0.06] [P = .02]; >9 exposures, 1.08 [0.05] [P = .01]). Additionally, receiving more than 9 dispensings was associated with greater likelihood of obesity compared with no exposure (adjusted odds ratio, 2.41; 95% CI, 1.07-5.41). Children whose exposure began in the first year of life had a higher adjusted mean (SD) BMI-for-age z score than those not exposed (1.06 [0.05] vs 0.89 [0.09]; P = .03), whereas those whose exposure commenced after the first year of life did not (1.02 [0.06] vs 0.89 [0.09]; P = .10).
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, repeated antibiotic exposure in early childhood was associated with higher mean BMI-for-age z score and an increased likelihood of obesity. Future research could examine whether interventions such as antibiotic stewardship programs, which are designed to reduce overprescribing of antibiotics, also reduce early childhood obesity.