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Common Household Cleaners Can Make Your Children Fatter: Study

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Could household disinfectants be contributing to the growing number of children who are overweight or obese? A new study finds antimicrobial and antibacterial agents affect gut microbiome.

The surprising discovery was made by researchers from the University of Alberta who studied data from AllerGens' Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development or CHILD to investigate the link between cleaning products and overweight children. They examined exposure of children to three categories of household cleaners: disinfectants, detergents, and eco-products.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Disinfectants Changing Gut Microbiome

The researchers, who tracked 727 children, found that frequent use of disinfectants, including baby wipes, increases the risk of obesity in young children. Children from homes that use disinfectants at least twice a week are likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes Lachnospiraceae, the bacteria linked with obesity, at 3 to 4 months old compared to families that do not use common household cleaners as frequently.

At 3 years old, these same children have higher body mass compared to those who were not exposed to the heavy use of disinfectants at home as infants.

"We didn't just find an association," said principal investigator Anita Kozyrskyj. "Our 'mediation' statistical analysis suggests that a gut microbiome enriched with Lachnospiraceae early in infancy was likely directly responsible for children becoming overweight or obese."

More than 80 percent of homes use cleaners with disinfectants at least once a week. Infants from these households might have been exposed to aerosol or, in some cases, baby wipes that contain antibacterial or antimicrobial agents.

The research, however, did not find a link between changes in an infant's gut microbiome and detergents — another common household cleaner widely used at home.

"We did not find a relationship between detergents, gut microbiome change or obesity risk independent of whether disinfectants were used," added the pediatrics professor.

Switching To Eco-Friendly Products

The study also looked out households that use ecologically friendly disinfectant and found that children who grew up in these homes have a decreased risk of growing up overweight or obese. Infants from these homes have lower levels of the gut microbe Enterobacteriaceae.

However, Kozyrskyj said that there is no evidence that the number of microbes in the children's gut decreased their risk of obesity. Instead, she said that parents from the homes that use ecologically friendly cleaning products also probably eat healthy, affecting the child's microbiome at birth and later in childhood.

Researchers could not recommend that parents switch to ecologically friendly cleaning products because the causal link has not been found as of yet.

Sally Bloomfield, an expert who was not involved in the study, adds that more research is needed before any conclusion is drawn. She also stated that not using disinfectants at home might put a child at risk of spreading infection.

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