Are Household Cleaners Making Kids Overweight?


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Latino kids are already at a big disadvantage to achieve a healthy weight. They lack opportunities to engage in physical activity and they often live in a food swamp and/or a food desert.

Now, household cleaners may also contribute to the obesity crisis.

Multi-surface disinfectants and other household cleaners can be making children overweight, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study suggested that these cleaners alter gut bacteria, specifically Lachnospiraceae. Lachnospiraceae is a family of gut bacteria and are a normal component of our gut microbiota. This family develops during infancy when we gain a greater number of bacterial species, in which, each species decreases or increases over time.

About The Study

The study used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study that began in 2009. Researchers followed participants from mid-pregnancy into childhood and adolescence.

Parents provided stool samples for each infant, along with a survey about their home environment. 757 stool samples were analyzed as well as BMI data at older ages and use of disinfectant household cleaners.

Flowchart of the infants eligible for the study. CHILD = Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development.

Researchers found that approximately 80% of Canadian households use disinfectant products, in which, multi-surface cleaners were most often used.

Infants, at ages three to four months, who were living in households where antimicrobial disinfectants were used on a weekly basis were twice as likely to have greater levels of the bacteria Lachnospiraceae compared to their counterparts whose homes did not regularly use disinfectants.

This correlation was not found amongst washing detergents without bacteria-killing agents that are found in disinfectants or eco-friendly cleaners.

“These results suggest that gut microbiota were the culprit in the association between disinfectant use and the overweight,” Anita Kozyrskyj, senior author of the study and a University of Alberta pediatrics professor, told CNN.

Study Limitations

Even though the study highlights the association between disinfectants and the gut microbiota, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

Some of the evidence clearly points to a direct cause-effect relationship between disinfectants and higher levels of the common gut bacteria, Kozyrskyj told CNN. For example, animal studies have found similar changes in the gut bacteria of piglets when exposed to disinfectants, she said.

In a commentary published by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, study results were found to be “biologically plausible” due to the bacteria we are exposed to when we are infants. The bacteria educates our immune system and programs our metabolic system, said Moira K. Differding and Noel T. Mueller, commentary authors.

These disruptions in the natural development of gut bacteria in infancy—due to a variety of reasons including antibiotics and formula feeding—have been linked with a greater risk of childhood obesity.

“The prevalence of childhood obesity continues to rise globally,” wrote Differding and Mueller in the commentary. They also state that it is “more important than ever” to identify obesity risk factors and ways to prevent high weight gains in children.

A leading pediatricians’ group also recently warned families on chemicals in processed food and the use of plastic food containers, while encouraging more whole fruits and vegetables.

“The AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] is particularly concerned about food contact substances associated with the disruption of the endocrine system in early life, when the developmental programming of organ systems is susceptible to permanent and lifelong disruption,” according to the AAP report.

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