The report, carried out by the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research of Valencia Region (FISABIO), involved the collaboration of German, Italian, Norwegian, South Korean and American scientists.
More than 74 million children aged up to 18 were studied between 2008 and 2012, making it the largest study of antibiotic use across the aforementioned countries, according to FISABIO.
The researchers say the results suggest children in Spain are often unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics.
“The results suggest that in Spain a high amount of antibiotics are being prescribed to children, and at least 50 percent of these prescriptions are unnecessary,” FISABIO scientific director Javier Díez-Domingo said in a press release.
“Bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics have already appeared, which means the population is in a tricky situation. We can still reverse that development through a rational use of antibiotics,” he added.
Inadequate use of antibiotics causes more problems than benefits, Díez-Domingo insisted, arguing that the rate of prescription in Spain needs to decrease.
The study showed a significant difference in the use of antibiotics among the countries examined. South Korea had the highest number of prescriptions, followed by Italy then Spain. Norway and Germany had the lowest rate of prescription across all age groups.
In the first two years of life Spanish children are prescribed an average of 1.5 antibiotics per year, according to the research. That's 3.5 times more than the rate of prescription in Norway, and 50 percent more than in Germany and the USA.
“Spain is one of the EU countries with the highest resistance to antibiotics, together with Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia, and it is much higher than in Norway where they prescribe far less often,” Dr. Gabriel Sanfélix-Gimeno commented.
“It is known that resistance to antibiotics occurs in parallel to consumption, meaning that the poorer the prescription of antibiotics is, the higher the overall resistance is,” he noted.
The researchers emphasized that Spain is not only noteworthy for the high number of antibiotics prescribed, but also a tendency to prescribe strong antibiotics where other, less resistance-causing antibiotics would have been sufficient.
FISABIO called for Spain's healthcare system to press doctors to better control the use of antibiotics in the country.
Its research was recently published under the title “Antibiotic use in children – a cross-national analysis of six countries” in peer-reviewed medical journal “The Journal of Pediatrics”.