Dirt is good for kids, a scientist says, contradicting common beliefs that children should be given sterilized objects, or not be allowed to play with animals.
Jack Gilbert, who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago, decided to find out what exactly are the known risks involved when modern-day kids come into contact with germs, NPR reports. He had received plenty of advice on caring for his kids before, such as sanitizing a pacifier.
It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial,
Gilbert said. “So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor — if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy’s mouth, it’s actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system’s going to become stronger because of it.”
Now, Gilbert is the co-author of a new book entitled Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System, where he answers questions from parents that have come up over the years.
In an interview, Gilbert says the biggest things parents get wrong are to keep their children from ever getting dirty, leading to over-sanitized environments. Parents who also keep their kids away from animals, and use hand sanitizer on their children are not also helping.
In the former, having pets around can actually be beneficial for a child’s health, and warm, soapy water is enough for washing.
The five-second rule is also a myth, Gilbert says. It only takes milliseconds for microbes to crawl onto food, and it makes no difference, unless the food was dropped in an area with extremely dangerous bacteria – something that is close to impossible in most homes.
The scientist also recommends licking a pacifier if it falls on the ground instead of washing it, as studies have shown that kids who put licked pacifiers back in their mouths were less likely to develop allergies, asthma, and eczema.
Gilbert points out that as long as children have been vaccinated, and are eating a proper diet that includes vegetables and less sugar, they should be allowed to “experience the world.”