Most parents have a natural instinct to keep their children away from germs, but according to B. Brett Finlay, Ph.D., and Marie-Claire Arrieta, Ph.D, it might actually be more beneficial to let your kids get a little dirty. As authors of the book Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child From an Oversanitized World ($26), Finlay and Arrieta examine the role bacteria play in growing bodies and argue that it’s beneficial for children to be exposed to healthy bugs.
New research has shown that one of the most critical time periods for setting up the body with its microbes is the first 100 days of an infant’s life. While they don’t recommend encouraging your children to actually play in the dirt, Finlay and Arrieta believe that children exposed to a diverse set of microbes are more likely to develop an immune system capable of defending against things like diabetes, asthma, and negative reactions to vaccines. Meanwhile, they say, a microbial imbalance makes children more susceptible to those types of afflictions.
In terms of how parents can ensure that their children are exposed to healthy bacteria under safe conditions, Finlay and Arrieta suggest doing things like getting a dog, letting your kids play outside, and avoiding things like unnecessary antibiotics. They also suggest cutting out the use of hand sanitizer, unless there’s no running water or soap around. So the next time you see your children messing around in dirt, you might want to think twice before telling them to stop.
As a parent, do you plan on taking Finlay and Arrieta’s advice?