“Put your hat on or you’ll catch a cold!” While this familiar cliché may not be scientifically accurate, there are clothes that can keep a child healthy.
In our work around the world, we’ve found that health and clothing often go hand in hand. The right clothes can protect a child from illness and equip them to play and be active. Here are five key clothing items that can protect a child’s health.
1. A change of clothes
We take it for granted that kids in the U.S. have clean clothes to wear while doing laundry, but for many children around the world, this is not a given. Without a spare outfit, it’s more complicated for children to wash their clothes. And as the clothes get dirtier and more ragged, children are more likely to develop skin infections. A change of clothes gives kids a chance to wash and maintain better hygiene.
2. Shoes and boots
Walking barefoot can have health benefits for a child; however, without shoes, many children in warm climates are at risk of contracting worms such as hookworms, bacterial infections, or jiggers. Worms enter children’s bare feet and can make their way to a child’s intestines. Communities without appropriate hygiene, sanitation, and clean water are especially at risk because worms spread in feces and dirty water is a host to parasites. Wearing shoes can protect children’s feet from these infections and from thorns and other injuries. In cold climates, boots are essential to keep little toes dry and protected from frostbite.
3. Warm coat
Going outside without a coat in cold weather is not enough to catch a cold — you do have to come in contact with a virus. But some studies have found that cold viruses can replicate faster in cold temperatures. Without coats and warm clothing, children can be more vulnerable to illness. But one of the real costs of the lack of coats in cold weather is that children are stuck indoors. They miss school. They miss out on playtime. They miss out on vital development. A warm coat can open up opportunities for healthy growth and development.
Little fingers are especially susceptible to frostbite. In places like Armenia, temperatures frequently stay below freezing. Children’s hands turn numb, get blistered, and sometimes have permanent damage. “My girls are only 3 years old, but their hands are already red because of the freezing temperature outside. I am so afraid of their health because they catch cold so easily,” says Shooshan, a mom in Armenia. A pair of gloves protects these little hands, freeing them to do what they do best — play.
5. School uniform
In many places, children are sent home from school if they do not have a proper school uniform. Elementary school may be free, but the cost of a uniform, even if it only costs $5, is an impossible price for families who can barely afford food. Without an education, children miss out on healthy development and a chance for a bright future.