Little Girls Need to Get Dirty -- For Their Health

girl playing in dirtDid you know that women are infected with the auto-immune disease Lupus more often than men are, at a rate of nine to one? Women tend to have higher rates of auto-immune disorders and allergies than men do. And one researcher at Oregon State University, Sharyn Clough, thinks it's because women are too clean: She says girls who get dirty have healthier immune systems than girls who stay tidy. That's because when kids are exposed to dirt, they're also exposed to bacteria that helps them fight diseases as they get older. 

So Clough thinks the higher rates of allergies and diseases in women are at least partly due to how girls play and behave when they're young. "Little boys are more often than little girls encouraged to play in the dirt. Little girls are dressed in clothing that's not supposed to get dirty." It sounds crazy, but maybe she's on to something.


More and more research does seem to show a link between the microbes in dirt and healthy immune systems. But I don't know ... do girls really spend that much more time indoors, staying clean, than boys do? I remember spending a lot of time playing with dolls with my sister as a girl, but then my brothers spent a lot of time indoors playing with toy cars and Legos. And I feel like we all spent around the same amount of time outside riding bikes and running barefoot in the grass. Or did we? Er ... this was a very long time ago.

I think there are probably more factors that explain why allergies and auto-immune disorders are more common in women than in men. (It could be partly because men are less likely to see doctors.) But it's something to think about. If nothing else, it's a reason for parents to look at how we're raising our kids and ask ourselves if we expect our little girls to stay cleaner than little boys. If we are, we should think about what the impact could be on their immune systems later on. 

It kind of sounds like a dirty girl is a healthy girl. Let's hear it for dirty girls! Oh ... you know what I mean.

Do you feel like girls spend less time playing outside and getting dirty than boys do?


Image via Aaron Brinker/Flickr

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