Kids Safety Network

The Reason Why Parents Should Let Their Children Eat Dirt

Happy children playing in the garden with toy balls

Kids have long been urged to wash their hands – but now a pair of UBC microbiologists say let kids get dirty. Their research says bacteria plays a vital role in growing bodies

Your kids don’t need to wash their hands all that often. Before dinner is fine. Soap and water will do — but not antimicrobial soap. Throw it away.

Save the hand sanitizer for times when someone in the house is sick.

If your kids are a bit grubby, don’t worry about it too much. Don’t sterilize baby bottles — washing them normally is fine.

Oh, and get a dog — a friendly, slobbery one is ideal. Extra points if it tracks mud into the house. And if your baby drops its soother on the floor, suck it clean in your own mouth and give it back to them.

It goes against conventional wisdom, which basically holds that the cleaner our environments are, the better — especially for children.

But Brett Finlay, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, argues that while the emphasis on hygiene over the last century has saved lives in the past, it has now gone too far.

Children’s immune systems aren’t exposed to a wide enough variety of microbes, and the result is rising rates of asthma and allergies.

“For the last hundred years, both kids and adults have died of infectious diseases,” Finlay says. “If you look at what was killing people 50 years ago, 100 years ago, it was mainly infectious diseases. So as a society we went on a major hygiene campaign.”

Our relationship with microbes is complex, but the basics are simple, Finlay explains: the more your immune system knows, the better the job it does. The more it’s exposed to, the more it knows. And the earlier in life this all happens, the better.

“It’s really important that you get a good microbial exposure early in life,” he says. “In the last five years or so there have just been stunning discoveries that these microbes play a key role in how our bodies develop. They shape how our immune system develops.”

The solution, fortunately, is really simple. Don’t worry about children’s environments being perfectly clean.


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