Why you should let your kid play in the dirt

Apparently, there is such a thing as "too clean"

These days, most kids are discouraged or entirely forbidden from playing in the dirt. Instead, these kids are kept indoors, in play areas sterilized to death with antibacterial wipes and sprays.

Can being "too clean" make you sick?

Modern hygiene has lowered incidences of many diseases, but plenty have attributed the increasing numbers of allergies and autoimmune problems to being “too clean.” Dr. Brett Finlay noted in The Wall Street Journal that though “diabetes, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, autoimmune diseases, autism, obesity, and certain types of cancer” are hereditary, their growth “cannot be explained by genetics alone.”

More and more studies have cropped up linking kids' germ-free lifestyles to health problems later in life, or linking microbes found in dirt and soil to stronger immune systems.

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Microbes help the immune system

According to WebMD, research has found that exposing young children to certain germs could help their immune system better protect them as they get older. “Most of the germs lurking about our environment and that live on our bodies are not only harmless; they've been with us for millennia,” Dr. Martin Blaser of the New York University told WebMD.

"These perform important physiological functions but because of modern life they are changing and some are disappearing," Blaser continued. "Those disappearances have consequences—some good, some bad."

On the next page: how microbes help with metabolism and what parents should do.

Microbes help regulate our metabolism

Having certain bacteria in one’s system helps one avoid inflammatory diseases (e.g. allergies) and metabolic diseases (e.g. diabetes), reported Finlay. Bacteria helps with the digestion of certain foods and also produces compounds that helps use or store energy in our bodies.

Photo: Public Domain Images Photo: Public Domain Images

What should parents do?

  • Parents can encourage their children to spend more time outdoors instead of holing them up inside.
  • Parents can also feed their children a more varied diet. Instead of feeding your baby only rice cereal for days, offer oats and mashed-up beans as well.
  • Avoid giving your child antibiotics. Some research has found that there could be a link between using antibiotics in early childhood and problems like obesity, diabetes, asthma, and so forth.
  • Though you shouldn’t let your kids play in a sty, Thom McDade, director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern Universty, told WebMD that parents shouldn’t be overzealous when cleaning their kids’ environment. "I'd like to see a recalibration toward common sense. You don't have to wash or sanitize everything."

READ: Kids who have puppies are less prone to asthma

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