Play in the Dirt!

Sharyn Clough, a researcher and philosopher at Oregon State University, has discovered that women who have higher rates of allergies and other autoimmune disorders may be a result of being too clean. She believes the link between hygiene, gender and disease is not just a fluke. Running amok in the dirt and mud might make for healthier kids. Now that doesn’t mean that kids should eat dirt, rather, just get a little dirtier!

“Girls tend to be dressed more in clothing that is not supposed to get dirty, girls tend to play indoors more than boys, and girl’s playtime is more often supervised by parents,” said Clough, adding that this is likely to result in girls staying cleaner. “There is a significant difference in the types and amounts of germs that girls and boys are exposed to, and this might explain some of the health differences we find between women and men.”

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Being exposed to high amounts of bacteria found in dirt can actually help build a healthier immune system. “There is some thought that getting exposed to things, even parasites and different microbial elements in the dirt, might actually improve the overall immunity that a child develops,” said Dr. Aoi Mizushima of Providence Medical Group Family Practice.

One daycare center in Portland has taken the study to heart, as they encourage both boys and girls to play in the mud. The Portland Providence Wee Care Day Care Center provides a pair of rubber boots, shovels, and a mud box for their kids to play in. As Wee Care director Colette Brown explained, “We always tell parents the kids are going to get dirty. That’s part of the work of childhood.”

You can learn more about Sharyn Clough’s research on Oregon State’s website.