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How household dust might contribute to childhood obesity

Few people actually enjoy housework. A new study from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, however, might give you an incentive to clean more often.

Researchers, let by Christopher Kassotis, have found that dust in homes might contain chemicals that accelerate the development of fat cells, which could cause obesity.

These “endocrine-disrupting chemicals present in household dust promote the development of fat cells in a cell model and could contribute to increased growth in children,” researchers found.

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"This is some of the first research investigating links between exposure to chemical mixtures present in the indoor environment and metabolic health of children living in those homes," Kassotis said in a press release.

Earlier research has shown that endocrine-disrupting chemicals “might increase the risk of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders or obesity by disrupting hormone-mediated processes during critical periods of development.”

Previous research also has shown that chemical exposures can promote accumulation of triglycerides and increased obesity in animal models. Observational studies have found a link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals believed to contribute to obesity and increased weight in humans.

For this study, Kassotis and his team collected 194 samples of dust from houses in central North Carolina. Then, they extracted chemicals from the dust and tested their ability to promote fat cells.

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Very low concentrations of the dust extracts promoted “precursor fat cell proliferation and fat cell development,” they found.

"We found that two-thirds of dust extracts were able to promote fat cell development and half promote precursor fat cell proliferation at 100 micrograms, or approximately 1,000 times lower levels than what children consume on a daily basis," Kassotis said.

The EPA estimates children consume between 60 and 100 milligrams of dust each day.

After measuring more than 100 chemicals in the dust and their relationship to fat cell development, the researchers found that “70 of the chemicals had a significant positive relationship with the development of dust-induced fat cells, and approximately 40 were linked with precursor fat cell development.”

"This suggests that mixtures of chemicals occurring in the indoor environment might be driving these effects," Kassotis said.

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Several of these chemicals were higher in the dust of homes with overweight children, Kassotis’ team found. Some of the chemicals are found in laundry detergents, cleaners, paints and cosmetics, and the research team is continuing to study them determine which ones might be linked to obesity.

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