December 16, 2008

‘Gross messages’ work to up hand washing

Gross messages such as Poo on you, wash your hands, were effective in getting undergraduates to wash their hands more, a U.S. researcher suggests.

Lead author Renee Botta of the University of Denver and colleagues posted messages in the bathrooms of two undergraduate residence halls with messages like You just peed, wash your hands, accompanied with vivid graphics and photos.

The study, published in the journal Communication in Healthcare, finds the gross messages resulted in a 26 percent increase in hand washing among females and an 8 percent increase among males. Observations in two control dorms over the same four-week period showed hand washing decreased 2 percentage points among females and 21.5 percentage points among males.

Fear of spreading germs or getting sick by not washing didn't mean much to students, Botta says in a statement. What got their attention was the knowledge that they might be walking around with 'gross things' on their hands if they didn't wash.

The researchers tried gross messages, germ messages and you'll-get-sick messages, but they said the only ones with an impact were the gross messages.