Handwashing: A Family Activity

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A mother instructing a child to wash her hands

For kids, washing hands can be a fun and entertaining activity. It is simple enough for even very young children to understand 1, 2. Handwashing gives children and adults a chance to take an active role in their own health. Once kids learn how to properly wash their hands, they can—and often do—show their parents and siblings and encourage them to wash hands, too 3, 4.

Parents can help keep their families healthy by:

  • Teaching them good handwashing technique
  • Reminding their kids to wash their hands
  • Washing their own hands with their kids

Improving Health

a father washing hands with his son
  • Handwashing education in the community:
    • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31% 5
    • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58% 6
    • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 21% 7

Saving Time and Money

Handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness to others.

  • Reducing illness increases productivity due to:
    • Less time spent at the doctor’s office
    • More time spent at work or school

Helping Families Thrive

a little boy washing his hands

Children who have been taught handwashing at school bring that knowledge home to parents and siblings 3, 4. This can help family members get sick less often and miss less work and school.

Despite widespread knowledge of the importance of handwashing, there is still room for improvement. A recent study showed that only 31% of men and 65% of women washed their hands after using a public restroom 8.

  1. Jamieson D, Breman J, Measham A, Alleyne G, Claeson M, Evans D, Jha P, Mills A, Musgrove P. Disease control priorities in developing countries.External 2006. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  2. Curtis V, Schmidt W, Luby S, Florez R, Touré O, Biran A. Hygiene: new hopes, new horizons.External Lancet Infect Dis. 2011;11(4):312-21.
  3. Blanton E, Ombeki S, Oluoch GO, Mwaki A, Wannemuehler K, Quick R. Evaluation of the role of school children in the promotion of point-of-use water treatment and handwashing in schools and households–Nyanza Province, Western Kenya, 2007.External Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2010;82(4):664-71.
  4. O’Reilly CE, Freeman MC, Ravani M, Migele J, Mwaki A, Ayalo M, Ombeki S, Hoekstra RM, Quick R. The impact of a school-based safe water and hygiene programme on knowledge and practices of students and their parents: Nyanza Province, western Kenya, 2006.External Epidemiol Infect. 2008;136(1):80-91.
  5. Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea.External Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD004265.
  6. Huang DB, Zhou J. Effect of intensive handwashing in the prevention of diarrhoeal illness among patients with AIDS: a randomized controlled study.External J Med Microbiol. 2007;56(5):659-63.
  7. Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis.External Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1372-81.
  8. Judah G, Aunger R, Schmidt WP, Michie S, Granger S, Curtis V. Experimental pretesting of hand-washing interventions in a natural setting.External Am J Public Health. 2009;99(2):S405-11.

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