Improper Hand Washing May Stunt Children’s Growth

child-hand-washing-lgThe Importance of Hand Washing

Hand washing prevents the spread of infection, keeps people healthier, and is considered good hygiene. New research has revealed that it may also affect the development of growing children.

A new study conducted by the London School of Hygiene, and WaterAid, and published by the Cochrane Review suggests that access to clean water and soap, and proper hygiene education may help children to grow taller.

Improving Hand Hygiene

Proper hygiene is important to the health of any community. In particular, the adoption of thorough hand washing techniques can help limit the spread of infectious diseases and keep communities strong and healthy.

The recent Cochrane Review study suggests that communities that adopt improved hand hygiene add an average two tenths of an inch of height to children under the age of five. The study concluded that while clean hands themselves don’t add height to children, the absence of clean water and and proper hygiene increases the chance of an intestinal infection that reduces the amount of nutrients a child’s body absorbs during a key developmental phase. Providing important education addressing proper hand washing could directly affect the health of millions of children.

Saving Lives

Dr. Alan Dangour, the study’s lead author, wrote that “providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene is an effective way to reduce the incidence and associated deaths from diseases such as diarrhea, which remains the third biggest killer of under-fives worldwide. For the first time our analysis suggests that better access to these services may also have a small but important impact on the growth of young children.”

Study Details

14 studies with data on more than 9,000 children from middle and low-income countries were examined by the review. Data was gathered from countries that included Pakistan, Chile, Nepal, South Africa, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia.

Among the studies’ findings, some of the most dramatic improvements could be achieved with simple measures. Using solar energy to disinfect water, providing sufficient hand soap, and improving overall water quality alone would provide an estimated 15 percent reduction in stunted growth.

Stunted growth is a serious affliction that directly affects both the physical and mental development of children all over the world. More than 165 million children suffer from stunting. This new research that links clean water and hygiene to the debilitating affliction seems to offer valuable insights into why certain countries have higher rates of stunted growth than others.

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