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2018 US Survey Reveals Concerns Over Handwashing and Hygiene in Public Places

Today, Essity, a global hygiene and health company with North American headquarters in Philadelphia, and the United Nations’ entity Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) launched the sixth edition of the Hygiene and Health Report.

With this report, Essity and WSSCC address opportunities and challenges throughout the human life cycle, highlighting new research, best practices and possible solutions. The report shows the societal implications of prioritizing hygiene and health in decision making, whether by a policy maker, a care professional or an individual.

The Health and Hygiene Report survey (link) polled 15,530 respondents from 15 markets around the world on questions about health and hygiene behaviors, perceptions and concerns. The survey results revealed key facts and trends about how people relate to the world through the lens of hygiene.

Key highlights from the Health and Hygiene Report Survey US results (with 1,044 respondents) include:

Hygiene Habits

  • On average, American women wash their hands about four more times per day than men (Women: about 11 times per day; Men: about 7 times per day).
  • Far from everyone in the United States wash their hands when they should. For example:
    • Less than two thirds of Americans wash their hands after treating wounds, caring for someone who is sick, touching an animal or blowing their nose.
  • Most Americans (74%) feel uncomfortable around other people if they have unwashed hands.
  • Half of Americans (53%) prefer paper towels to dry their hands in public restrooms.
  • Many Americans carry out tasks while sick, despite the risk of infecting someone else.
  • 39% have used bills and coins
  • 26% have interacted with or bought something from a salesperson
  • 23% have worked in an open office setting.
  • Americans most value going to the toilet on their own (68%) and caring for their own personal hygiene (63%) when it comes to identity and personal integrity.

Effects on Public Life

  • Concerns about hygiene lead many Americans to refrain from certain public activities, such as:
    • Visiting a public toilet (36% refrain)
    • Eating street food (25% refrain)
    • Using public transportation (14% refrain)
  • 40% of Americans avoid eating out at food establishments due to concerns of dirty toilets and lack of hand hygiene products.
  • Hygiene concerns particularly affect American parents, as 4 in 10 parents worry that their child might become ill due to poor hygiene.
    • 15% of parents worry often; 28% of parents worry all the time.
    • 42% of parents have kept their child from participating in certain activities due to worries about hygiene.
  • Nearly one quarter of Americans (24%) often refrain from or rarely use the toilets in their workplace.
    • 46% of respondents cite unhygienic or messy toilets as the main reason for not using workplace facilities.
  • A majority of American parents (68%) say that their children refrain from using school toilets at least weekly.
    • 45% of respondents perceive the general hygienic conditions of school toilets to be the main barrier for their children.

Improving Hygiene

  • 54% of Americans believe that hygiene issues should be given higher priority by politicians and decision makers.
  • Almost half of Americans (49%) see greater individual responsibility as the key to improving public hygiene.
  • 7 in 10 American are interested in services based on hygiene and health technology, such as services that collect and provide the user with data.
    Services that analyze and store data are of lesser interest to respondents, possibly due to concerns about privacy.

“As a leading global hygiene and health company, Essity has unique knowledge and insights to drive global dialogue about the strong connection between hygiene, health and well-being. Our hope is that these survey learnings will spark conversation, awareness and develop standards in relation to health and hygiene both globally and here in the United States,” says Don Lewis, President, Essity Professional Hygiene.


About the collaboration between Essity and WSSCC:

Since 2014, Essity and WSSCC have partnered in the mission to encourage a global conversation about hygiene and health issues as well as opportunities across organizations, sectors, and countries. In 2016, we took the partnership further by jointly publishing the Hygiene Matters Report: Joining Forces for Progress. With this edition of the report, we are continuing our work. We offer new insights by combining research findings, statistical evidence, successful cases and testimonies from people whose voices are rarely heard. We also highlight solutions and actions that we identify as critical for improving hygiene and health standards across the globe and for every part of life’s course. Our ambition is to inspire and invite more players to join the dialogue and partnership and to help identify sustainable solutions going forward.


About the report:

This report is the latest edition in a series of reports that Essity has published since 2008 with the aim of raising awareness about the pivotal role that hygiene, sanitation, and health play in well-being and for individuals and communities, and to highlight solutions to some of the problems we face in these areas.

The report builds on a combination of third-party information and our own data. One data source is a global survey conducted between November 20 and December 4, 2017, through web panels in 15 different countries, collecting answers from a total of 15,530 respondents. National quotas have been used to obtain accurate representation of age and gender. Questions in the survey centered on hygiene and health concerns, public hygiene, personal hygiene, menstruation, incontinence, antibiotic resistance and sustainability.