A Little Dirt is Good For You

A Little Dirt is Good For You

Carrie McBride
Oct 6, 2009

It's always a little awkward at the playground as parents near you are pulling their kids out of dirt and puddles while you let yours get wet and dirty. Are they overprotective? Am I too cavalier? It turns out that dirt can be good for your kids - even eating it.

We missed the article "Babies Know: A Little Dirt is Good For You" when it came out in the New York Times in January but came across it recently and felt reassured that we don't need to rank dirt very high on the list of things we worry about in parenting.

Of course there are benefits to cleanliness and hygiene, but many scientists espouse the idea that keeping kids too clean can compromise their ability to develop a robust immune system. Babies' use of their mouths to explore their world may have an evolutionary function of introducing bacteria, viruses and (brace yourself, germaphobes) worms which serve to fortify immune systems and help prevent asthma, allergies* and autoimmune diseases.

"Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat," says Dr. Joel V. Weinstock of Tufts Medical Center. What do you think? Is this crazy talk? The full article, by Jane E. Brody, is available to read here.

(*for a somewhat graphic, but utterly fascinating story about one man's use of hookworm to combat his severe allergies, check out this story on WNYC's Radio Lab.)

(photo: Carrie McBride)

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