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Household Disinfectants Could Be Contributing to Child Obesity

Multi-surface cleaners and other common household cleaning products may be altering a child's gut bacteria.

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As childhood obesity rates continue to rise around the world, experts have pointed to junk food, soda, and lack of exercise as major factors in children becoming overweight at a young age. However, a new study suggests that multi-surface cleaners and other common household cleaning products may be altering the gut bacteria of young kids, making them susceptible to weight gain.

The study, which was conducted by the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development starting in 2009, followed nearly 800 participants for years to see if they were exposed to disinfectant products and whether or not that affected the child’s growth or development. According to the study, infants that were living in households where “antimicrobial disinfectants”, most commonly found in multi-surface cleaners, are used twice a week or more were more likely to have higher levels of the bacteria Lachnospiraceae in their gut, which previous studies have linked to higher body fat.

“We each possess a unique gut microbiota but there are common patterns, there are common microbes that are expected to be found in childhood and in adulthood,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, a University of Alberta pediatrics professor who was the senior author for the study. “I would say around 3 years of age we have a bacterial composition that we can call our own. And it stays with us for the remainder of our life.”

But before you start throwing out all of your cleaning supplies, Kozyrskyj admits that while there is certainly some evidence that exposure to disinfectants may alter a child’s gut bacteria, “it still is a big leap to use the word causation.” She says there will likely need to be more research before anyone can definitely claim that multi-purpose cleaner is a significant factor in childhood obesity. But as we gain more of an understanding of a child’s development, it becomes increasingly clear that when it comes to monitoring the health of a child, it never hurts to trust their gut.