Teaching Kids Hygiene = Health

A Tel Aviv University study shows Jerusalem teachers are unaware that hand washing means good health. The findings led to a program in the schools.

Hana Levi Julian ,

Teaching students to wash hands before lunch
Teaching students to wash hands before lunch
Israel News Photo: (archive)

A new study showing that Jerusalem area teachers did not recognize the connection between personal hygiene habits and good health has fueled a new program in the city's schools.

According to Tel Aviv University researcher Dr. Laura Rosen, who studied 40 pre-schools and kindergartens in the Jerusalem area, teachers were often unaware of the direct link between hand washing and health.

Rosen's findings, published in the March 2009 issue of Health Education Research, became the driving force behind a new program to educate school children on the importance of washing their hands.

Studies have shown that the simple act of hand washing can decrease transmission of communicable diseases by 20 to 50 percent.

The issue has become especially important due to the current spread of the swine flu epidemic. In Israel, 36 people have been diagnosed with laboratory-confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus since the first case surfaced in late April.

The World Health Organization is contemplating a move to declare a global pandemic, based on the fact that the virus has spread to nearly 50 countries. More than 10,000 people have been confirmed with the illness in the United States alone, although the estimated number of cases is far higher.

Although transmission of the virus in Israel has been relatively low, more cases have recently surfaced. Health officials have continued to emphasize to the public that maintaining personal hygiene practices -- washing one's hands -- is the best way to ward off the illness.

In the Jerusalem area schools, said the TAU researcher, that concept was not being taught to children, nor were the teachers themselves as aware of the issue as they should have been prior to the swine flu outbreak, when the study was conducted. "There was no connection being made between hygiene and illness," Rosen said. "Basic hygiene wasn't being taught."

Rosen's program used a combination of teacher education and child-oriented tools such as puppet shows and songs to explain the concepts.

The effort paid off: Pre-lunch hand washing in the participating schools increased from 25 percent to about 60 percent.