Household cleaners and disinfectants could be the cause of the obesity epidemic among infants and toddlers.

The products change the children’s gut microbiome which helps regulate their weight, new research has discovered. The only safe cleaning agents to use are eco-friendly ones, which don’t have the same bad effects.

Infants who live in homes that use standard disinfectants at least once a week were twice as likely to have higher levels of gut microbes, known as Lachnospiraceae, which are linked to weight gain.

Children who were overweight or obese by the time they were three years of age already had changed bacteria in their gut, known as the microbiome, when they were four months old.

Canadian researchers found a direct link between a changed gut microbiome—with a depletion of bacteria such as Haemophilus and Clostridium and an increase of Lachnospiraceae—and the number of times that disinfectants, such as multi-surface cleaners, were used around the home.

University of Alberta researchers analysed the gut flora of 757 infants, aged between three and four months, and checked their weight from the age of one and until they were three years old. The children with raised levels of Lachnospiraceae as infants had a higher BMI (body mass index) score by the time they were three.

But those who lived in homes that used eco-friendly cleaning products weren’t affected. These infants had different gut bacteria that didn’t seem to influence weight gain, said lead researcher Anita Kozyrskyj. People who use eco-friendly products also tend to lead healthier lifestyles and eat a better diet, and this too may have had an influence on their children’s weight.

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