Dirt Is Good for Children

Updated on August 29, 2017
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Source

Old folklore wisdom stated that “A little dirt never hurt anyone,” or “Everyone must eat a pound of dirt before they die.” As so often proves the case, the knowledge of the pre-scientific world was based on common sense and observation.

Babies seem to know instinctively that dirt is good for them; when they find something of interest on the ground it usually goes straight in their mouths. As Jane E. Brody writes in The New York Times, “Since all instinctive behaviours have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.”

Source

Parental Concern

Few parents today tell children to “Play outside and get dirty.”

Moms and dads have been guilted by advertising into raising their little treasures in an antiseptic, germ-free environment. Kids mustn’t be allowed to touch anything that hasn’t been wiped clean, disinfected, and sterilized. We are advised to:

  • dose the little ones up with an oral antiseptic;
  • bathe them daily in an anti-bacterial cleanser; and,
  • slap on a coating of germ-killing cream.

The British lobby group parentsoutloud.com says that an overabundance of government health and safety regulations has created an artificially cleansed environment around children.

The guiding force of parentsoutloud is Margaret Morrissey, and she is quoted by The Telegraph as saying: “Parents have become so paranoid about their children playing outside and getting dirty that today’s youngsters are not enjoying a proper childhood.”

Morrissey blames living in an antiseptic bubble for tripling of the number of children developing food allergies.

Tom Brady of The New York Times writes that the incidence of peanut allergies “tripled from 1997 to 2007, an epidemic for which there is no clear explanation.”

The Hygiene Hypothesis

Nobody disputes that good hygiene reduces infections, but research suggests we shouldn’t be obsessive about it.

In November 1989, David Strachan, an epidemiologist, wrote an article in The British Medical Journal in which he proposed the existence of what came to be known as “The Hygiene Hypothesis.”

Dr. Strachan was studying the incidence of hay fever and eczema when he noticed that these allergy-based problems cropped up less frequently in children who came from large families when compared with kids from single-child families.

He speculated that exposure to germs during early childhood gives the human body better protection against allergies.

Mark Holbreich has studied the incidence of allergies among the Amish in Indiana. According to The New York Times he “discovered that just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children he tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens, as opposed to about half of all American children.”

Why the difference? It’s the barn or, as European scientists call it, the “farm effect.” Almost all Amish children grow up on farms, and, says The Times “The theory is that microbes from the cowshed, plant material, and raw milk stimulate the immune systems of children and protect them from allergies.”

Source

Dirt Helps Skin Heal

Writing in The Telegraph, Murray Wardrop reports that researchers in the United States have found a scientific explanation for the hygiene hypothesis. “Scientists have discovered that bacteria on the surface of the skin play an important role in combating inflammation when we get hurt. The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses, which can lead to rashes or cause cuts and bruises to become swollen and painful.”

Source

By over-sanitizing their children’s environment, parents may be impairing the ability of the harmless bacteria to aid the healing process.

Dermatologist Professor Richard Gallo of the School of Medicine at University of California, San Diego led the research team that made the discovery. The results have been published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine and reported by BBC News as showing that “a common bacterial species, known as Staphylococci, blocked a vital step in a cascade of events that led to inflammation.”

The bacteria “did this by making a molecule called lipoteichoic acid or LTA, which acted on keratinocytes – the main cell types found in the outer layer of the skin.”

Source

Blaming the Hygiene Hypothesis

Dr. Graham A.W. Rook is a professor in the department of infection at the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at the University College, London. He says the hygiene hypothesis can be blamed for:

  • Severe allergic reactions;
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease; and,
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Rook told U.S. News and World Report “The evidence for all this is very, very powerful … The bottom line is organisms that were present in mud, untreated water, and feces were with us right from the start of humanity.”

Exposure to these organisms trained our immune systems to combat infection. But walling children off from all the bacteria, microbes, and bugs means they are not developing defences against illness.

Dr. Mary Ruebush is the author of Why Dirt Is Good. She says that if children play in an environment occupied by bacteria their systems will develop “immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”

Bonus Factoids

According to the University of Nebraska “There are more organisms in a gram of soil than there are human beings on this Earth!”

Geophagia is a condition that causes people to eat soil; it can cause serious health problems.

On the impoverished island of Haiti people make cakes out of mud, occasionally mixed with salt and butter, which are called bonbons par terre. Although they have no nutritional value, the bonbons par terre are eaten to ward off the pangs of hunger.

Sources

“Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good For You.” Jane E. Brody, New York Times, January 26, 2009.

“The Trouble with Germ-free Bubbles.” Tom Brady, New York Times, November 23, 2013.

“Dirt Can Be Good for Children, Say Scientists.” BBC News, November 23, 2009.

“Commensal Bacteria Regulate Toll-like Receptor 3-Dependent Inflammation After Skin Injury.” Nature Medicine, published online November 22, 2009.

“Children Should be Allowed to Play in the Dirt Because Being too Clean Can Impair the Skin’s Ability to Heal Itself, New Research Suggests.” Murray Wardrop, The Telegraph, November 23, 2009.

“A Little Dirt May Be a Good Thing.” Dennis Thompson, U.S. News and World Report, September 9, 2011.

“Soil Biota.” University of Nebraska, undated.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 

        23 months ago from Home Sweet Home

        My mom never let me play with dirt, but I heard that in korea, it is alright to play with dirt that cures skin disease

      • lions44 profile image

        CJ Kelly 

        23 months ago from Auburn, WA

        Bravo. I hope parents hear you. Whenever I see kids using hand sanitizer I just want to scream, "No." Sharing everywhere.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, healdove.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://healdove.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)