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Heading into fall and flu season means washing our hands is more important than ever to help us stay healthy. The good news is more people are washing their hands in the United States. The bad news is there is still plenty of room to improve. A study recently released by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute® reports that when it comes to hand washing in public restrooms, we’re doing better. Eighty-five percent of adults washed up in public restrooms this year compared with 77 percent in 2008. That makes 2010 the best year for hand washing since the studies were started back in 1996.
Over 6,000 adults were observed in public restrooms in August 2010. The researchers discreetly staked out sinks in six locations in four U.S. cities:
• Turner Field in Atlanta
• Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago
• Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
• Grand Central Station in New York City
• Penn Station in New York City
• Ferry Terminal Farmers Market in San Francisco
Their observations showed that 85 percent of the people who used the restroom also washed their hands. That seems like a high number, but it is noticeably lower than the 96 percent who claimed they always wash their hands when questioned during a telephone survey.
One notable improvement in hand washing was witnessed in the men’s room, where 77 percent of men washed up in 2010 compared to just 66 percent in 2007. But the location of the bathroom made a difference in men’s habits. Sporting venues produced the least suds with only 65 percent of men using the sinks at Turner Field (up from 57 percent in 2007). Women took more time in the Turner Field washrooms than anywhere else, with a record high 98 percent washing their hands there in 2010.
When it comes to changing a diaper, women again outpaced the men with 88 percent of women claiming to wash up after diaper duty compared to the men’s 80 percent.
Overall, women improved their ranking as well, with 93 percent washing at all venues in 2010, up from 88 percent in 2007. But hand washing was less likely before touching food or eating, with only 77 percent of all people turning to the sink before they eat.