Could cleanliness be exposing girls to certain infections?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - Little girls growing up in western society are expected to be neat and tidy, “all ribbon and curls”. But this cleanliness may be linked to higher rates of allergies and asthma in adult women, says a new study.

Oregon State University philosopher Sharyn Clough, who studies science and gender differences, points out that women have higher rates of allergies and asthma and many autoimmune disorders, the journal Social Science & Medicine reports.

Clough documents a variety of sociological and anthropological research showing that society views young girls differently from young boys, according to an Oregon statement.

“Girls tend to be dressed more in clothing that is not supposed to get dirty, girls tend to play indoors more than boys, and girls’ playtime is more often supervised by parents,” said Clough, adding that this is likely to result in girls staying cleaner.

“There is a significant difference in the types and amounts of germs that girls and boys are exposed to, and this might explain some of the health differences we find between women and men.”

However, that doesn’t mean that parents should let their daughters go out into the back yard and eat dirt, Clough points out.

“What I am proposing is new ways of looking at old studies,” she said. “The hygiene hypothesis is well-supported, but what I am hoping is that the epidemiologists and clinicians go back and examine their data through the lens of gender.”

The link between increased hygiene and sanitation and higher rates of asthma, allergies and autoimmune disorders is known as the hygiene hypothesis.

Filed under: Medicine, World

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