hand washing adolescents
Researchers look into the behaviours of adolescents around the world over the course of 14 years.

Is hand washing an effective protection against infectious diseases?

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the accompanying global pandemic, the topic of hand hygiene has been the spotlight more than ever. With each new hand hygiene-related study, we get the chance to learn about real-world behaviours and the latest techniques to improve them.

A new study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an example of this. In it, researchers look into the behaviours of adolescents around the world over the course of 14 years.

They studied how young people have deal with the issue of hand hygiene? Were infectious diseases prevented by that measure in this demographic?

What they found is that the stereotypical image of the rebellious teenage has – at least in the area of hand hygiene – a grounding in sciene.

The Study: An Overview

The study includes individuals aged 12-15 years from 80 different countries. For the survey, priority was given to school-going teens from countries of differing socio-economic status, who were interviewed by means of a questionnaire during regular school hours. The survey was conducted between 2003 and 2017.

The survey examined behavior before eating, after going to the toilet, and the frequency of using soap.

Too little attention? Hand washing among adolescents

In all 80 countries, young people consistently recorded poor hand hygiene behaviours. Teens in developing countries show deficiencies in hand washing after using the toilet and with soap – often due to a lack of hygiene resources.

However, young people from more affluent nations also showed problematic hand hygiene and had an increased risk of contracting various diseases compared to other demographics.

Hand washing among kids

This study underlines what has been a historic and vital opportunity during the pandemic. The need for improving the hand hygiene habits of future generations at this critical stage of development existed before the global spread of COVID-19. The spotlight on hand washing and sanitizing has given healthcare workers and public health officials a unique chance to educate a demographic prone to poor hand hygiene habits and increased rates of infection.

Habit-forming is half the battle. In lower-income areas, material conditions need to be improved so that there can be easy access to soap.

The hoped-for effect of this increased education around hand hygiene for young teens is that the spread other diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, hepatitis can also be prevented.

Even as countries are entering fourth waves and pandemic-fatigue is all too real, teaching and enouraging proper hand washing remains an important tool to protect our kids and teens. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change the habits of a generation. If we get it right, the long term effect on health could be incredible.


Smith, L.; Butler, L.; Tully, M.A; Jacob, L.; Barnett, Y.; López-Sánchez, G.F.; López-Bueno, R.; Shin, J.I.; McDermott, D.; Pfeifer, B.A.; et al. Hand-Washing Practices among Adolescents Aged 12–15 Years from 80 Countries. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 138. https:// dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18010138


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