x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bath time can wait

By obsessively keeping children too clean, some parents may paradoxically be increasing the risk of making them ill.

Most kids like to get dirty. Most parents, on the other hand, like to keep the Handi Wipes handy. But not so fast, parents: it turns out that the childhood instinct to dive into the mud, roll around in the grass, and even eat some dirt, isn't merely fun. It's also healthy, up to a point.

Scientists at Harvard Medical School in Boston, reporting in the journal Science this week, have given new support to the "hygiene hypothesis" - that kids growing up in the relatively germfree, medicine-rich environments of the developed world tend to be at a higher risk for autoimmune diseases than are children in the dirtier, underdeveloped places of the earth.

That theory is not new, indeed it is well-established. There is also a parallel theory that overuse of antibiotics, along with the parental obsession with cleanliness, is helping to fuel the rapid increase in serious allergies and asthma in children.

This new study has taken a step towards identifying the mechanism responsible for the increase in juvenile autoimmune ailments.

There's still plenty of research to do before this is fully understood, and of course no theory is an excuse for truly bad hygiene.

But parents would be well-advised, it appears, to get Junior to turn off the high-tech playthings once in a while, and go play outside.