Household Cleaners May Be Contributing to Excessive Weight In Children, Study Shows

Household cleaners, overweight children.
Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock

A study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, has found a link between household disinfectants and overweight children, reports CNN. The study suggests that cleaners and disinfectants may be altering the bacteria found in their gut.

Scientists looked at the levels of the bacteria Lachnospiraceae in children when they were 3- to 4-months-old and contrasted it with the levels tested at 3-years-old. Infants living in homes where antimicrobial disinfectants were used weekly were found to have levels of Lachnospiraceae twice as high as those who lived in homes where these cleaners were used less frequently. Furthermore, children with high levels of the bacteria had a higher body mass index (BMI) when tested at 3 years of age.

Anita Kozyrskyj, senior author of the study, commented in a CMAJ podcast that Lachnospiraceae is a normal bacteria found in a healthy-functioning gut. She also added that it is known “from animal studies that higher levels of Lachnospiraceae have been associated with higher body fat and insulin resistance,” writes CNN.

The report used data compiled from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, which began in 2009 and followed participants from gestation into childhood and adolescence. Starting around 3- or 4-months-old, parents provided a fecal sample from their children and answered a questionnaire about their home environment. The samples were analyzed and cross-referenced with BMI measurements and information about at-home use of disinfectants.

Overweight child, household cleaners.
  kwanchai.c / Shutterstock

Kozyrskyj revealed that “One of the study’s findings is that roughly 80% of Canadian households use disinfectant products, most often multi-surface cleaners, at least once weekly.”

The researchers also looked at the usage of other cleaning products, such as washing detergents or eco-friendly cleaners. They found that in homes where cleaners free of anti-bacterial ingredients were used, there was not an increase in Lachnospiraceae bacteria. Kozyrskyj commented on this finding.

“These results suggest that gut microbiota were the culprit in the association between disinfectant use and the overweight.”

Kozyrskyj also explained that gut microbiota refers to the community of bacteria we house in our digestive tract.

“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. 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.”

The results of the study highlight an important connection between the use of disinfectants and weight. The prevalence of childhood obesity continues to rise globally, making it important to identify the risk factors and prevent high weight gains starting in childhood.