Too often kids are told by their parents to wash their hands and to not get dirty—it’s thought to be better hygiene, after all. But what if that very thing that we tell kids not to do would actually make them healthier. New research published by The New England Journal of Medicine has found just that: Kids who get dirty while playing in barns are less likely to get asthma.
According to a New York Times article, the scientists studied two groups of people: the Amish in Indiana and the Hutterites in North Dakota. Both people groups have similar lifestyles with one main difference. Amish keep small-scale dairy farms and allow their children to play in the barns, while Hutterites run industrialized farms and don’t typically allow their children to play in the barns. The Amish also rarely get asthma, while 15 to 20 percent of the Hutterite population gets it.
To test their theory that children who are exposed to dust from cattle barns are less likely to develop asthma, the scientists exposed mice to the dust to see what would happen. Low and behold, the saw the same results they found in their human research samples: “If we give the Amish dust, we protect the mice. If we give the Hutterite dust, we do not protect them,” Dr. Donata Vercelli told NYT.
The Amish dust contained a certain bacteria, which in effect, immunized the Amish children against asthma. “It is not far-fetched to start thinking of how one could harness those bacteria for a therapeutic intervention,” Harvard Medical School immunologist Dr. Talal Chatila said in the NYT article.
So if you’re worried about your children getting the sniffles from being out on the farm or around the animals too much, maybe it’s time to relax a little. A little dirt not only doesn’t hurt, it can be a good thing—though, we still recommend washing your hands before dinner.