sealPurdue News Lifestyles Briefs

December 1996

Professor's research shows value of washing hands

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a young boy washing his hands is available. The photo is called Niffenegger/Hands or download here.

HAMMOND, Ind. -- Mom knew what she was doing when she told us to wash our hands. A Purdue University Calumet study shows that handwashing does help keep youngsters healthier.

A 1994-95 study during the traditional cold and flu season months of January through March showed fewer colds in a test group of 3- to 5-year-olds using proper and frequent handwashing techniques than within a control group of similarly aged youngsters. Joann Niffenegger, assistant professor of early childhood development, conducted the study at Purdue Calumet's Riley Child Center.

At the child center, 18.9 percent of the children and teachers caught colds, compared to 27.8 percent in the control group. Each group comprised 30 children and 10 teachers. Both groups were from centers complying with state regulations. However, the handwashing curriculum that the Purdue Calumet center implemented went beyond state guidelines.

Components of Niffenegger's program included:

"From an educator's standpoint, I don't think caregivers know how to teach handwashing," Niffenegger says. "Just telling kids to do it isn't enough; it's an abstract notion.

"We learned that it takes a while to change behavior, but that eventually children understand the importance of handwashing and become very involved in doing it properly with the help of the adults around them."

She says the only drawback of handwashing is that you can get very dry hands, but that can be remedied by using moisturizing lotions.

Her project also involved teaching youngsters about germs, how they linger and how to get rid of them. "We did a pretend germ experiment, using petroleum jelly and nutmeg," Niffenegger says. "The nutmeg served as germs. We asked the children to wash away the 'germs' with cold water. When the 'germs' remained, the children were taught the effectiveness of washing."

CONTACT: Niffenegger, (219) 989-2219

Book explores the chemistry between pets and people

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Pets play a greater role in our emotional and physical health than ever before, says the Purdue University professor who is co-author of his revised edition of "Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship."

The book by Alan M. Beck of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine and Aaron H. Katcher, psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, explores the emotional and physical benefits of owning a pet and analyzes the complex relationship between people and pets. The first edition was published in 1983.

"The study of the importance of the relationship between people and animals is a growing field and has the potential to be part of the whole human-health field," says Beck, director of Purdue's Center for Applied Ethology and Human-Animal Interaction.

Beck and Katcher note a 1992 study by an Australian cardiologist of 5,000 people who visited a clinic to find ways to reduce heart disease. The study found that people with pets had lower blood pressure and lower blood fat levels than those without pets, even though the two groups were alike in diet and exercise.

The authors also point to the trend by nursing homes to incorporate animals into patients' lives. For example, in the early 1980s nursing homes typically did not allow pets to visit patients, while today nearly half of the homes have an organized program for animal therapy, Beck says.

In addition to exploring physical benefits, the book covers such topics as pets as family members, pets as therapists, talking to pets, and how pets can teach us to become better companions to friends and family.

The 316-page book is available for $14.95 from Purdue Press, 1532 South Campus Courts-E, West Lafayette, Ind. 47907-1532, telephone (765) 494-2038.

CONTACT: Beck, (765) 494-0854; e-mail,; Web,

To retrieve a full news release about the book, send e-mail that says "send punews 9611f1" to

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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