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Survey Finds Hindrances to Hand Washing in Schools

Children Cite Busy School Schedules, Untidy Restrooms as Barriers to Washing Up
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 12, 2011 -- Children need to wash up more often at school, and parents need to set a better hand-washing example. That’s according to a new survey by the American Cleaning Institute, which represents the U.S. cleaning products industry.

For the online survey, 512 children (aged 8 to 17) and 521 parents answered questions about their hand-washing habits and beliefs. Although most children (89%) reported that they washed their hands after using the restroom at school, far fewer said that they wash their hands at other times during the school day. Nearly half said that the most common reason they failed to do so was because their school schedules did not allow them time.

For many students, the state of the schools’ toilets is a turn-off. Twenty-one percent of students surveyed said that they didn’t like using their school’s restrooms (15% found their school’s restrooms "disgusting") while another 19% said their school restrooms didn’t have the proper supplies. Forty-seven percent occasionally avoid the restrooms because they are dirty.

Peer pressure also apparently plays a role. Although 14% of the children surveyed said they don’t wash their hands because no one else does, 77% report that seeing their friends wash their hands reminds them to wash their own.

And, finally, some kids simply need to be told but aren’t: 16% said that "No one reminds me to."

Less than two-thirds of children say they wash their hands before lunch; 26% do not wash their hands after handling garbage. Only about half wash up after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

Hygiene Habits

Getting children into the habit of washing their hands starts at home. But a third of parents surveyed do not model the behavior, failing to wash their hands after using the bathroom. Another third have not taught their children how long they need to spend on hand washing. However, most parents (79%) say they insist on hand washing prior to meals at home.

Why is hand washing so important? According to the CDC, hand washing is one of the most effective means of stopping the spread of illness and infection. Most children (97%, according to the survey) already know this. Yet, the survey indicates, they -- and, in some cases, their parents -- need more time and encouragement to wash up.

"Good hygiene is one of the many life skills that schools can reinforce. Good hygiene helps keep students healthy and in school," Nancy Bock, American Cleaning Institute vice president of consumer education, says in a news release. "Parents and teachers need to prompt kids daily, because cleaning matters to our health. Lessons learned in school last a lifetime."

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