Given the rising rates of childhood obesity, researchers are always on the look for interventions and lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain, especially at such a young age. In their latest findings, researchers from Canada suggest household cleaning products may be playing a role by affecting their gut bacteria.

The study titled "Postnatal exposure to household disinfectants, infant gut microbiota and subsequent risk of overweight in children" was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Sept. 17.

The research team examined nearly 800 infants from the general population. Gut flora of the infants was analyzed at the age of 3-4 months while their weight was measured at ages 1 and 3 years. The team also looked at the exposure to disinfectants, detergents and other cleaning products used in the homes of the babies.

"We found that infants living in households with disinfectants being used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes Lachnospiraceae at age 3-4 months," said Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatrics professor at the University of Alberta.

The presence of Lachnospiraceae in the gut is considered normal. But when present in high levels, these bacteria have been linked to higher body fat and insulin resistance. The association was found in the new study too since the infants who had higher levels of Lachnospiraceae also had a higher body mass index (BMI) by the time they were three years old.

But children raised in homes primarily using eco-friendly cleaners were less likely to be overweight by the time they become three years old. As suspected, their guts also revealed a difference as they had much lower levels of the gut microbes known as Enterobacteriaceae. However, it was not understood if these gut microbiome changes directly reduced their obesity risk.

While more research is required before a strong recommendation can be put forward, these findings do seem to support the use of eco-friendly cleaning products. Kozyrskyj said good dietary patterns and a mother's overall healthier lifestyle can all help in ensuring a healthier BMI and the right composition of gut microbiomes in babies.

"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," she said. "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."

Other studies have explored the effects of such "obesogens" in adult populations as well. Earlier this year, researchers from Spain presented a study shedding light on how everyday products like plastics and pesticides might play a role in our risk of obesity. One of their seven recommendations was to reduce the use of obesogen-containing cleaning products or opt for the eco-friendly ones.