How to know if your kids are exposed to enough germs … and when it’s too much

Is your child getting enough exposure to germs to sufficiently boost their immune system? Let’s find out.

Most children love getting dirty…and they should. Messy play exposes your children to beneficial microbes. Professor Sally Bloomfield, author of the Royal Society for Public Health Policy Report and member of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) explains that microbes come from interaction with our human, animal and natural environment. How is this beneficial? We’ve asked…

Why do we need microbes? They allow us to build a diverse microbiome in our gut, respiratory tract, skin and other areas. Without a well-maintained microbiome, you could end up with allergies, asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergies, as well as auto immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. The report shows that the rise of these types of conditions can be due to lifestyle changes such as not spending enough time outside, and having less interaction with friends, family and pets.

When do we need to keep kids clean? When it comes to hygiene and cleanliness, the IFH recommend that these activities should take priority and that parents should ensure that their child’s hands (and, where relevant, all surfaces your child comes into contact with during these activities) be kept clean:

  • Handling of food
  • Eating with fingers
  • Using the toilet
  • Coughing, sneezing and nose blowing
  • Touching surfaces frequently touched by other people, such as door handles
  • Handling dirty clothing and household linens
  • Caring for domestic animals
  • Handling and disposing of refuse
  • Caring for an infected member of the family

So, what activities are safe for children to take part in that will ensure that they are exposed to good germs?

  1. Let’s get messy: It might not be fun to clean up afterwards, but messy play is important for development as well as creating a healthy gut in children. Playing in a sand pit (and not eating the sand), making mud cakes and painting outside using different objects, can contribute to healthy development.
  2. Start gardening: Having their own vegetable garden allows children to expose themselves to natural germs, while learning about food and where it comes from. Let them dig, plant, water and watch their plants grow.
  3. Get in touch with nature: Walking around a park or hiking on a trail will expose them to natural elements and get them fit at the same time. Let them pick up rocks and touch the flowers.
  4. Spend time with pets: Let your child help take care of the family pets. This will teach them responsibility and expose them to healthy microbes. Depending on the age of your child this can include walking the pets, feeding them, playing with them and grooming them.
  5. Washing hands: Children should be taught that washing their hands after they are done with the activity is part of the game.

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