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Antibiotics are an important part of your doctor's tool kit, preventing infections from spreading totally out of control. But, could they also negatively affect your weight? Kiera Butler, a senior editor at Mother Jones, has an interesting theory. After reading the results of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined antibiotic prescription rates across the country, she found that there was a wide variation in rate by state. So, she asked Lauri Hicks, a lead author of the study, if those rates correlated to any other patterns.
Sure enough, the states with the highest prescription rates also had the highest rates of obesity. Additionally, the study's team found that those same states typically had below-average median incomes. The relationship between obesity and lower income is well established. And, it makes sense. Often it's less nutritious, processed foods that are least expensive (and most calorically laden).
But, Butler suggests that the high rates of obesity might actually be caused by antibiotics, as mounting evidence has drawn a link between gut bacteria and body weight, among many other health issues. Eradicating gut bacteria that promotes thinness with antibiotics could, in theory, lead to weight gain. Our bodies are a complex world for the bacteria that inhabit them — and altering our bacterial balances can throw lots of (unexpected) things off.
Now, it's important to remember that correlation does not imply causation, and there could be a host of other factors at play in areas with high antibiotic prescription rates: environment, income (for example, someone who doesn't have insurance might wait until an illness gets bad enough to require antibiotics before paying for a doctor's visit) or the fact that obesity is also correlated with an increased risk of health problems that might require treatment with antibiotics.