Too Clean Parents Are Damaging Children's Health
Parents paranoid about cleanliness and infection could be damaging their children's immune systems in their early life.
Scientists believe the so-called "Playstation generation" of today's children who no longer play outside could also be causing damage to their immunity against infection and disease. An ICM poll found six out of 10 people believe children should be protected from all bacteria, not realising that some exposure is crucial to building up the immune system.
A baby is usually first exposed to immune-boosting bacteria in the birth canal but the rise in Caesarean births and a decline in breastfeeding means they could already start off with a poorly-developed immune system. Parents obsessing about keeping their children in a "sterile bubble" of anti-bacterial wipes, sprays and antibiotics are just compounding the issue. The poll found 73 per cent of people believe that it is important to protect themselves against bacteria and bacterial infections with anti-bacterial products.
The misunderstanding about bacteria is shown by the fact that 42 per cent believe society's health would improve if all bacteria were eradicated. Some 67 per cent also believe bacteria are dangerous, but many appear not to understand that they can be beneficial and that life on earth would not exist without them.
Professor Ken Jones, an immunologist at Cardiff School of Health Sciences, said the study demonstrates the germ warfare that could be damaging children's immune systems.
Prof Jones said: "With the huge media attention around dangerous bacteria such as MRSA, the marketing hype pushing total annihilation of bacteria via wipes or sprays, coupled with the dangerous reliance on antibiotics for almost any infection, there is a real concern that we are misunderstanding bacteria and the vital role some bacteria can play in our overall health and wellbeing and the development of our young."
The scientist also argues that the lifestyle of today's society is increasingly damaging immune systems. He said: "The Playstation generation no longer play outside with plenty of other kids as they used to. We live in smaller families and in less rural locations. All these factors mean children are less exposed to the variety of bacteria they used to be, which is crucial to develop the immune system."
His advice is to strike a balance between cleanliness and obsessiveness, encourage children to play outside with their friends, ensure they know to wash their hands and encourage them to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - preferably organic.
The immunologist, in common with others in his profession, also believes antibiotic use should be limited, especially within the first year of life. He said: "There is a reason your doctor does not immediately prescribe antibiotics and you shouldn't pressurise them to.
"If you or your children do have to take antibiotics, then it is important to restore the balance of good bacteria."
People can also take a daily probiotic to boost the immune system, he said.
â€¢ICM Research, which conducted the survey for Yakult, interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults aged 18 and over by phone earlier this month.
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