Do household cleaners make infants obese?

A Canadian study suggests that the epidemic of childhood obesity may be caused in part by the chemicals in typical antibacterial household cleaners. The researchers theorize that such chemicals are absorbed through the lungs, skin, or mouth (babies taste everything) and find their way into babies’ intestines. Once there, they kill off key elements of infants’ gut bacteria, rendering children less able to process food normally. The result: overweight kids.

The analysis, done as part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, looked at gut bacteria in 750 infants at ages three to four months. Then they tracked the children’s weight as they aged to three years. The scientists controlled for a range of factors such as diet, family history, and even whether a baby was born normally or by Caesarian section.

The one correlation that held steady was between an infant’s obesity and the long-term use of antibacterial cleaners. The more cleaners that were used in the home, the fatter the baby.

The results confirm those of another study, showing that toddlers with a high concentration of triclosan in the urine (a common antibacterial agent in soaps, cosmetics, and toothpaste), tended to have more body fat. Researchers also have found that piglets who inhale aerosol disinfectants over time show alterations in their digestive tracts’ array of bacteria.

The Canadian study also found that families who used more “natural” cleaning products tended to have fewer obese children.


The switch to organic foods, “nutriceuticals” and “green” cleaners will continue, as people realize the dangers that synthetic chemicals pose to living things and our environment. Marketing will more strongly emphasize products’ green credentials, and retail prices for green products will stabilize, or even drop, as demand and supply rise. Environmentally oriented investment funds and advisors, such as GreenCentury, Natural Investments LLC, and Natixis Investment Managers will benefit.

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