Girls' Cleaner Lifestyles Could Make Them Sick, Study Shows

Filed under: In The News, Health

clean sick picture

Keeping girls squeaky clean could lead to health issues down the road. Credit: Getty

A little dirt never hurt. But try telling that to moms determined to keep their little girls squeaky clean.

In today's cleanliness-obsessed world where anti-bacterial soaps and other cleansers are frequently used to keep germs at bay, researchers are finding these preventative measures actually may be responsible for an increase in illnesses and allergies for kids, especially little girls who are less likely to emerge from the playground covered in mud.

It's called the hygiene hypothesis, according to a study reported by NPR. Because little girls tend to have a cleanlier lifestyle than boys, their bodies no longer need to fight germs. As a result, they're more likely to develop allergies, asthma or autoimmune disorders as they grow up.

In the study, reported in the journal Social Science and Medicine, Sharyn Clough, a philosopher of science at Oregon State University who studies research bias, says young girls are held to a higher standard of cleanliness than young boys, a discrepancy that could help explain later health differences.

Long-term, this could result in women having higher rates of certain illnesses, Clough tells NPR.

Women already have a higher rate of asthma than men -- 8.5 percent compared to 7.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They're also more likely than men to have allergies. And the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association says autoimmune disorders affect women three times more often than men, NPR reports.

The reason little girls don't get exposed to germs as much as boys has to do with the way kids are socialized, Clough tells NPR.

"We still dress little girls in clothes that are restrictive and not supposed to get dirty," Clough tells 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."

The reason dirt is good for kids, Clough tells NPR, is because there is a variety of bacteria in the soil. That makes playing in dirt a reliable way to ingest dirt, and thus bacteria.

And, despite the fact that it's socially acceptable for little girls to play sports, they're still wearing dresses, Clough tells NPR.

"I think for little girls, things aren't changing much," she tells NPR.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.