The Dirt On Germs: They Aren't All Bad
A pediatrician on why mud pies can be healthy
It never fails. You go to the local playground, you turn your back for five minutes and your kid has stuck dirt or a worm in her mouth. Without constant attention, your child is covered in mud and has his shoes off whenever he goes outside.
Spending time outdoors is a critical part of kids' fun, but it might also help promote a healthy and happy childhood.
The National Wildlife Federation points out that the decline in the average time kids spend outdoors correlated with escalating childhood obesity rates and Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that 1 in 10 U.S. children have a vitamin D deficiency, a vitamin they would naturally get from sun exposure.
Numerous studies have concluded that Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in dirt, can help improve mood and brain function.
There's also a reason mud makes your child so happy. Kids who play outside have higher levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain linked to good moods and reduced stress.
"Getting dirty is an important part of being a kid," Dr. Mangham said. "The things that don't seem like a big deal to adults are wonderful and fascinating to children. Letting them draw patterns in the dust, shaping mudpies and making a mess can be a magical part of growing up."
Little hands can pick up a lot of germs. At any given time, you have close to 150 different bacteria living on your hands, and 80 percent of illnesses are spread by direct human contact.
For kids, stomach bugs, strep throat and other bacterial illnesses can spread quickly, particularly in environments such as schools and day cares.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to keep you and your children safe from germs. Hands should always be washed thoroughly with soap and water before eating and after using the bathroom.
“I also tell young children to keep their hands below their neck—they don’t need to rub their eyes, suck their fingers or pick their nose,” says Kim Mangham, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician in Keller. “Kids can have all the germs in the world living on their hands, but if they don’t put their hands in their mouth, nose or eyes, they won’t get sick.”
About the author
Kim Mangham, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician at 1601 Keller Parkway in Keller, Texas. She earned her medical degree at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. She completed the pediatric residency program at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Her interests include breastfeeding education as well as disease and injury prevention. Dr. Mangham is board certified in pediatrics.