Expert: Pandemic habits could cause rise in asthma, obesity

By , KCBS Radio

Disinfecting wipes, hand soap and sanitizer have become highly sought after products because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after a year of disinfecting every surface and rigorously using hand sanitizer, some experts say that as life goes back to normal, we should drop our stringent cleaning habits, too.

Dr. Brett Finlay is a microbiologist and professor at the University of British Columbia, and he says over that our efforts to reduce exposure to the coronavirus has also reduced our exposure to helpful bacteria and microbes.

“What we know based on history is when you deprive the body of these normal, healthy microbes – especially at the bookends of life, early and late life – it has bad effects on us,” he said on KCBS Radio’s “Ask an Expert” segment Monday.

“And so our concern is that as we’ve gone into this hygiene mode - which we had to do because that’s the only way we could survive the pandemic - it’s going to have unintended consequences down the line.”

Exposure to certain microbes and bacteria can help our brain development, immune system and various other bodily systems, especially as children.

For example, studies have shown that people who are born via C-section are 25-35% more likely to develop asthma and 30% more likely to be obese, partly because they miss out on exposure to helpful microbes in the birth canal.

“So you can imagine a child born during COVID, it’s a very difficult world compared to pre-COVID where you go to daycare and you’re crawling around with a bunch of kids as well as the neighbors’ kids and everything as well as different grandparent’s microbes. And yet these days in COVID you’re whisked away and you basically live in isolation for a year.”

He fears that a few years from now we will see an increase in asthma and obesity in children as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Dr. Finlay says that as the risks of COVID dissipate, so should our cleaning and disinfecting habits.

“During COVID, for now, use hand sanitizer judiciously… but then as soon as COVID is done we should probably go back to just soap and water,” he said. “You don’t need to use hand sanitizer in the playground when the child goes from teeter totter to swing, as I’ve seen parents do.”

Dr. Finlay says adopting a Mediterranean diet and spending time outside can help build up a healthy microbiome, as does hugging and shaking hands with friends, family and acquaintances once it is safe to do so.

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