Prior studies of early antibiotic use and growth have shown mixed results, primarily on cross-sectional outcomes. This study examined the effect of oral antibiotics before age 24 months on growth trajectory at age 2-5 years.
We captured oral antibiotic prescriptions and anthropometrics from electronic health records through PCORnet, for children with ≥1 height and weight at 0-12 months of age, ≥1 at 12-30 months, and ≥2 between 25 and 72 months. Prescriptions were grouped into episodes by time and by antimicrobial spectrum. Longitudinal rate regression was used to assess differences in growth rate from 25 to 72 months of age. Models were adjusted for sex, race/ethnicity, steroid use, diagnosed asthma, complex chronic conditions, and infections.
430,376 children from 29 health U.S. systems were included, with 58% receiving antibiotics before 24 months. Exposure to any antibiotic was associated with an average 0.7% (95% CI 0.5, 0.9, p < 0.0001) greater rate of weight gain, corresponding to 0.05 kg additional weight. The estimated effect was slightly greater for narrow-spectrum (0.8% [0.6, 1.1]) than broad-spectrum (0.6% [0.3, 0.8], p < 0.0001) drugs. There was a small dose response relationship between the number of antibiotic episodes and weight gain.
Oral antibiotic use prior to 24 months of age was associated with very small changes in average growth rate at ages 2-5 years. The small effect size is unlikely to affect individual prescribing decisions, though it may reflect a biologic effect that can combine with others.