Happy belated Global Handwashing Day (it was officially October 15th, but really shouldn’t this be a holiday that is observed everyday?). And what better way to celebrate than with a new study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine that finds only one-third of men wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom, compared to two-thirds of women.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, are based on a study of 250,000 people in Britain whose use of soap in restrooms was monitored with sensors over a period of 32 days. Also examined was the effectiveness of various handwashing reminders which were displayed on LED screens at the entrance of the lavatories.
The most effective reminder was found to be “Is the person next to you washing with soap?” When this message was displayed, the use of soap jumped 12 percent for men and 11 percent for women, suggesting that if you make people feel like they are being watched, they’ll be more likely to comply with a directive. Gross is also good, if you are a man, with messages such as “soap it off or eat it later” eliciting higher response rates; women, however, responded better to simple reminders.
The importance of handwashing should not be underestimated. The study’s authors write:
“Handwashing with soap has been ranked the most cost-effective intervention for the worldwide control of disease…It could save more than a million lives a year from diarrhoeal diseases, and prevent respiratory infections – the biggest causes of child mortality in developing countries.”
Now, as one of the tested reminders commands, please “don’t be a dirty soap dodger” and go wash your hands. Or maybe they meant you should avoid dirty soap? Either way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several helpful handwashing tips.