There's plenty of debate as to whether our sanitizer-clutching hands are making our kids sick. Some research says our efforts to eliminate every germ from their lives is causing a host of health problems from autoimmune disorders to allergies and asthma -- the hygiene hypothesis. But what I've never heard before is that it may be girls in their pretty pink dresses who are being affected most of all.
NPR took a look at a recent article in the Social Science and Medicine journal and found that females do suffer more from these health issues than men. It's especially apparent when it comes to autoimmune disorders -- women are three times more likely to develop one than men. And since researchers say girls are still expected to stay cleaner than boys, some think the disparity in dirt ingested may be part of the cause.
"We still dress little girls in clothes that are restrictive and not supposed to get dirty," researcher Sharyn Clough told NPR. "Little girls are still way less likely to play outdoors than little boys. And little girls are supervised more often by their parents during their play, which is likely to keep them from getting dirty."
And for all its bad rap, exposure to the bacteria in dirt may help our bodies fight disease throughout our lives.
But wait, what about all the progress we've made in gender equality? Girls play soccer and climb trees; we're not keeping them in a tower these days. But she says things haven't changed as much as we think, especially when they're young.
"You'd think that this is changing but you'd be surprised. In a study from 1998 of American children in preschool, one-third of the 5-year-old girls came to school in dresses each day. Title IX and getting more girls into sports -- that's clearly a phenomenon that's changing things. But I think for little girls, things aren't changing much."
Finding a pair of pants in my daughter's closet amidst the dresses is difficult, so perhaps we're doing it without knowing it regardless of what they're wearing ... or just willing to wash a lot of dresses.
So should we give our girls a spoon and send them out in search of dirt? Clough says much research is still needed in the area, but she doesn't think it hurts kids to get dirty. So if you've banished the 5-second rule in your home, this may just be the justification you need for re-instituting it, or even bumping it up to 5 minutes or so.
Do you think girls are protected from dirt and germs more than boys?
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