A hyper-clean environment makes kids less healthy and more prone to allergies
We often hear the advice to let kids get dirty in a joking sort of way but as it turns out, there’s scientific evidence supporting the fact that kids who are exposed to germs and allergens are actually healthier than their super clean peers.
Which is a relief for people like me who only mop once every three months.
From the book “Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World” comes the confirmation parents need to hear that it’s simply unnecessary to sanitize the shit out of their children’s lives in an attempt to keep them healthy. Quite the opposite, as it turns out. Authors and microbiologists B. Brett Findlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta make their case in the book using numerous scientific studies and their own cutting-edge work.
The authors touch on several factors that shape a child’s long-term immunity including exposure to vital microbes and allergens early on in life. They explain the role microbes play in a child’s well-being and suggest a few things that might feel wrong considering what we’ve all “known” for the last several decades about germs and cleanliness.
For example, they encourage families to get a dog, if possible. The dog brings in dirt, which Findlay and Arrieta say is a good thing. They even say to let the dog slobber on your kid’s face to get all that germy goodness. Of course, some kids will have an allergy to dogs, but if not, having a pooch around could prove beneficial down the road.
Considering we’re a parenting generation who’s been given strict guidelines about introducing allergenic foods, their advice for feeding baby might feel a bit counter-intuitive. They write, “Don’t delay the introduction of allergenic foods. Offer peanuts, soy, shellfish, etc. … between four and seven months of age.” And that’s because scientific evidence has emerged over the years that delaying those foods does the opposite of what it’s intended to by increasing our rates of food allergies.
They also suggest that lack of microbial exposure is possibly responsible for our country’s increase in food allergies saying, “There are a lot of hypotheses about this, but the leading one is that children are “microbially deprived” so their immune system doesn’t develop normally, and is shifted to allergies.”
The authors strongly advocate for avoiding the use of unnecessary antibiotics and tell parents not to worry so much about their kids being exposed to germs. They even cite evidence from a Swedish study that babies whose parents suck their pacifier to clean it off develop fewer allergies than if they’d rinsed it in tap water.
Basically, not giving so many fucks about germs is better for our kids. And probably, for our sanity. Letting kids be exposed to microbes early in life is crucial for them to develop normally and avoid “Western” diseases like allergies, asthma, IBD, obesity, diabetes.
As a parent, I fall into the calmer category when it comes to germs and cleanliness. Sure, I like to make sure my kids avoid obviously disgusting things like animal poop or garbage on the ground, but when it comes to getting dirty? I let them eat cake. Dirt cake. I’ve never been the mom that panics and busts out the hand sanitizer and now, I feel a lot less guilty for my laziness.
The authors do say to still have your kids wash their hands when it makes sense — after going to the bathroom, before they eat, if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s sick or if they’ve been somewhere gross, like a doctor’s office or a crowded subway. They do point out that anti-bacterial soaps only have a place in hospitals and that plain soap and water is perfectly fine.
As parents, we’ve gotta love when science lets us off the hook a little bit and eases a few concerns. Because god knows we have enough to worry about.
H/T The Denver Post