Children in the UK lack basic knowledge to avoid serious illnesses

February 03, 2011

Children continue to be at risk of catching serious illnesses such as Swine Flu because they have not been educated about the simplest and most effective protection – hand washing - according to research released today (3 February 2010).

The study, commissioned by The Co-operative Pharmacy, has revealed that nearly two in three parents fail to ask their child to wash their hands when carrying out daily activities such as blowing their nose, running the risk of their children spreading and catching infectious illnesses. One in five parents said they didn’t tell their children to wash their hands after going to the toilet.

UNICEF Ambassador Matt Dawson meets pupils at the UNICEF funded Albert School in Johannesburg, South Africa

The research also found that one in seven parents had never taught their children to wash their hands properly with warm/hot water and an antibacterial agent or soap. And one in 16 parents believed educating children about the importance of hand washing was the responsibility of schools.

The Co-operative Pharmacy questioned 3,000 parents* and found three quarters of those polled failed to remind their children to wash their hands before eating and before preparing food or cooking.

More than two thirds said that their children had experienced sickness and vomiting, food poisoning, and severe diarrhoea, all of which can be drastically reduced by hand washing.  Nearly three out of five parents (57%) failed to recognise that food poisoning can be contracted by a lack of hand washing, which causes cross contamination of food and spreads bacteria such as ecoli and salmonella.The Co-operative Pharmacy’s new antibacterial handwash

The investigation, commissioned to launch The Co-operative Pharmacy’s new antibacterial handwash, highlights the impact of hand washing and sanitation on children’s health. The new handwash will raise money for UNICEF’s work in the developing world.

The handwash, on sale from today in more than 600 branches of The Co-operative Pharmacy, will help to address this problem by donating 15p from the 80p cost to help support a UNICEF sanitation project in Africa.

John Nuttall, Managing Director of The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Our research shows that a high number of parents don’t realise that they are putting their child at risk by not teaching them the basic principles of good hand hygiene.

“As a consumer-owned pharmacy we offer a range of health advice to hundreds of communities and believe it is never too early to educate children about the importance of hand washing. By promoting good habits in the home this decreases the risk of contracting serious infections, but also spreading them amongst family and friends.” 

Top five most common illnesses parents said their children have had:

  • Common cold
  • Sickness and vomiting
  • Chicken pox
  • Flu
  • Severe diarrhoea

Additional Information:

* One Poll interviewed a random sample of 3,000 parents online in January 2011.  Surveys were conducted among adults with one or more children under the age of 10 across all regions of the UK.

The three year partnership with UNICEF is part of The Co-operative Pharmacy’s ethical strategy. For more information visit:

As part of The Co-operative Pharmacy’s ethical strategy, the business has donated £400,000 to UNICEF to help promote basic sanitation and reduce water-borne diseases in Togo. A UNICEF project, supported by The Co-operative Pharmacy, will introduce the Community Led Total Sanitation (CTLS) approach, encouraging communities and schools to examine their own state in terms of hygiene and sanitation, their practices in terms of defecation and management of their school environment. The approach is designed to mobilise communities into reaching and maintaining an ‘open defecation free’ status in 390 villages in the Savanes, Kara and Maritime regions of Togo.

The Co-operative Pharmacy – part of The Co-operative Group – is the third largest pharmacy chain in the UK with nearly 800 branches. It is dedicated to providing the highest standard of healthcare to the local communities that it serves in, whether it is in a health centre, on a high street or in a small village.

The Co-operative Group stands apart from other major retailers in the UK as a business which is owned, not by a small group of shareholders, but by more than five million customers. With core interests in food, financial services, travel, pharmacy, funerals and farms, it has an annual turnover of £14billion, employs 120,000 staff and operates over 5,000 retail trading outlets serving more than 20 million customers per week.



UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit

A group of school girls stand outside a newly built block of girls toilets 


Media contacts:

Alex Anderson
Senior Public Relations Officer
The Co-operative Group
0161 2663416

Craig Noonan
PR Manager
The Co-operative Group
0161 266 3589


UNICEF contact:

Gemma Parkin
Media Officer
0207 375 6077