PORTLAND -- White tights, pretty dresses and the expectations to stay clean - some experts believe the pressure for little girls to be all ribbon and curls could be bad for their health.

In her research, Oregon State University philosopher, Sharyn Clough, found that women have higher rates of allergies, asthma and other autoimmune disorders because they tend to be so clean.

Look, if you're okay having your little boy play in the dirt, you should be okay having your little girl play out in the dirt as well, Clough said.

Clough thinks that when parents focus on keeping girls neat and tidy, it prevents them from getting exposed to dirt and bacteria that helps build up their immune systems.

Little boys are more often than little girls encouraged to play in the dirt. Little girls are dressed in clothing that s not supposed to get dirty, added Clough.

Clough has not been alone in her line of thinking.

Dr. Aoi Mizushima, with Providence Medical Group Family Practice, said that years ago, kids would easily spend three- to four hours playing outside, but now, kids are spending more time inside and auto-immune disorders are on the rise.

In the past 50 years, there has been a 400% increase in allergies and hay fever and asthma, Dr. Mizushima said, adding that spending time in the dirt, can be a health prescription for a child.

There is some thought that getting exposed to things, even parasites and different microbial elements in the dirt, might actually improve the overall immunity that a child develops, he said.

At the Portland Providence Wee Care Day Care Center, girls and boys are encouraged to play in the mud. The day care facility gives every child a pair of rubber boots, shovels and a mud box where they can play.

Colette Brown is the Wee Care director and said they spend as much time playing outside as they can. We always tell parents the kids are going to get dirty, that s part of the work of childhood, Brown explained.

You can find out more about Sharyn Clough's research on the Oregon State Web site.

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