August 25th, 2011

The Key to Better Attendance: Wash Your Hands!

We’ve been focusing a lot on health recently at Attendance Works. We’ve suggested that schools monitor air quality and mold in classrooms to prevent asthma attacks, provide dental check ups to prevent dangerous tooth infections and expand the use of school-based health centers. 

But a recent report from Denmark reminds us of an incredibly simple and effective way to keep kids healthy and in school: get them to wash their hands. 

It’s advice any Mom or Dad has been giving forever, but now there’s research to back it up. The Wall Street Journal reports on a study in the American Journal of Infection Control that followed Danish schoolchildren for three months. At one school, students were asked to use hand sanitizer three times a day and were taught good hand washing techniques. At a nearby school, parents were given information about hygienic practices but the children were not required to be wash hands. 

The results were hardly surprising, but they do suggest an easy fix to health-related absences. Students at the hand-disinfecting school had 26 percent fewer missed days of school and 22 percent fewer illnesses than those at the other school. What’s more, when the roles were reversed a year later and students at the original hand-disinfecting school were not required to use hand sanitizer the rates of illnesses and absences stayed the same, suggesting that good hygiene habits stick. 

There’s a lot schools can do to keep their students healthy and in class. Many efforts are costly, timely, and require a lot of coordination among different agencies. These are well worth the effort, but in the meantime, try the simple solution of getting kids to wash and disinfect their hands.

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