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Study links heavy childhood antibiotic use and obesity

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POSTED: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 8:00am

UPDATED: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 8:01am

Three years ago, Elisa Nicholson got the best surprise of all: Sophie, her daughter who she refers to as her “miracle" baby.

Nicholson says doctors told her she would never conceive, so now that she has Sophie, she admits she keeps a very close eye on her.

As soon as any sign of an earache pops up, it's off to the doctor's office right away for antibiotics.

“If she needs it, I want to give it to her," said Nicholson.

It's the same for Tanya Schevitz.

The San Francisco mother of two says sons, 9 year old Cash and 3 year old Catcher, were both born with kidney problems, forcing her to give them antibiotics constantly.

Schevitz says Cash was on antibiotics every day since he was born until he was almost four.

For Catcher, the problem is constant ear infections.

"When he gets an ear infection he gets a really high fever immediately. He goes to 104 and it's pretty scary, and I'm just not willing to wait it out," she said.

The problem of ear infections hits almost every kid in America.

According to the International Journal of Obesity, 80 to 90 percent of toddlers up to the age of three get ear infections.

For decades now, people have relied on antibiotics to solve the problem, and kill of all that bad bacteria. But along with it goes the good bacteria.

Now one Stanford doctor is pointing the blame at antibiotics for one of the worst problems plaguing America: the growing rate of obesity in children.

Dr. John Morton, Stanford's director of bariatric or weight-loss surgery, says relying on antibiotics has grown risky, a trend solidified in recent studies.

I've looked at kids who got repeated antibiotic treatments versus kids that just got the tubes in their ears and drained them. And the kids who got antibiotics were the ones who ended up gaining more weight," Morton said.

Morton describes the situation as a delicate balance between good and bad bacteria in our stomachs, adding that introducing too many antibiotics into the system may throw that balance out of whack.

As a result, it may disrupt the process of digesting food and metabolizing vital nutrients, especially for kids.

That's when he's at its most vulnerable point," says Morton. “At that point in time, even a few courses of antibiotics can upset that balance and may not have bacteria you need to have good, healthy weight down the road.

To see how it works in real life, Dr. Morton points to the American food industry.

He says it manipulates bacteria levels in animals by feeding them antibiotics in a sub-therapeutic procedure.

“The only thing it does is upset that bacteria level which allows them to become bigger. That's how you get bigger cattle, bigger chickens, sometimes bigger pork."

Nicholson and Schevitz say they will keep a close eye on future studies, but for now, just listen to their mother's instinct to do what's best for their kids.

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