The article “Babies Know: A little dirt is good for you” by Jane Brody, published in the New York Times, talks about how dirt and worms actually help build a baby’s immune system. The article addresses young mothers who try to raise their children in an ultraclean environment and suggests that it may be alright to let children play in the dirt. The content would interest the general public since every parent is concerned with the best for their children. The article uses simple layman language to get across the results of several scientific types of research.
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The title of the article is sure to catch attention, and the structure keeps the audience hooked from the beginning. The opening paragraph asks a question which mothers have been asking for ages – “why babies are constantly picking things up from the floor or ground and putting them in their mouths.” The rest of the article tries to find the scientific reason for this behavior.
Brody has done sufficient research and talked to several scientists to validate her claim about dirt being good for health. This is a very controversial topic, and she cites various scientific researches which seem to support the idea that dirt is good. For example, Brody mentions the research done on mice which showed that mice infected with human whipworm had fewer bouts of multiple sclerosis. She also uses quotes from people representing authority in this matter to drive home her point. When an instructor of microbiology and immunology like Mary Ruebush says that “What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” people tend to notice rather than dismiss it as just a fad.
Brody does not just quote the scientists but also tries to explain the science behind this claim in simple terms. The use of scientific terminology while explaining the functions of T cells introduces the readers to the science behind the so-called “hygiene hypothesis.” It also helps the more discerning readers to take the article more seriously.
The article also indirectly condemns some popular public health measures by saying that they may have saved hundreds of life but made children more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. However, such outright condemnation of popular measures requires scientific support, which Brody provides by quoting Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology hepatology at Tufts Medical Center, who says that “Children raised in an ultraclean environment are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
While the entire article has a certain shock value giving an example of a village where eradication of worms increased skin reaction to allergens in children shows that this is not just some hypothetical issue but a real-world problem, and if parents continue to be ultra-careful, they too could be exposing their children to such allergies. Such examples make the problem very real to the parents, who are then more likely to heed the advice given in the article.
Although the article answers the question it asks quite comprehensively, it could still leave some doubt in the minds of concerned parents. The idea of using vaccines to mimic the effect of dirt actually takes things too far. And some of the other suggestions, such as letting children eat without washing their hands, could find strong opposition. Despite this limitation, it is a well-constructed article and successfully gives useful information which could help parents bring up healthier children.
Brody, Jane. “Babies Know: A Little Dirt is Good for You.” New York Times.