Ask people whether they wash their hands after using a public restroom and, of course, they say yes. But when restroom spies actually watched to see who washed their hands, that's when the dirty truth came out.
Men, especially those at sporting events, still lag way behind women in washing their hands after doing their business. (We'll pause now for women to say "ewwww," and men to shift uncomfortably in their seats.)
A new survey based on restroom observations found that 93 percent of women wash their hands in public restrooms, while only 77 percent of men do. And that's an improvement over 2007, when only 66 percent of men did.
However, when asked in a telephone survey whether they always wash their hands after using a public restroom, 96 percent of adults said they do. So much for honesty.
The latest survey, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, was conducted by Harris Interactive. The market research firm sent restroom observers to six locations in four cities where two previous surveys had been conducted. The locations included Turner Field in Atlanta, New York's Grand Central Station, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Farmers Market.
Men at sporting events had the worst habits, the observers found. At Turner Field, barely two-thirds (65 percent) of men washed up—although that's an improvement over the dismal 57 percent in 2007. Maybe to make up for their germy companions, 98 percent of women at Turner Field washed up.
The place with the best hand-washing habits? The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where 93 percent of adults washed their hands.
With flu season coming up, washing hands—or using a hand sanitizer—is an easy, effective way to prevent spreading germs, says microbiologist Judy Daly of Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. This is especially important for older Americans and those with weakened immune systems.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go: The survey found that only 39 percent of Americans say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.
Candy Sagon writes about nutrition and health for the AARP Bulletin.