A hand up for hygiene: Obama was on to something with the fist bump

Study shows fist-bumping more sanitary than hand-shaking or high-fiving

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The origin of the fist bump as a greeting is uncertain, although it has been around for a long time and seems to have evolved from sports. But it wasn’t until Barack Obama went on stage in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 2008 to clinch his party’s presidential nomination and fist-bumped Michele Obama that the gesture entered the national consciousness.

The Washington Post called it “the fist bump heard ’round the world.” It may have been heard ’round the world, but polite society did more head shaking than fist bumping and went on shaking hands in the traditional way.

But maybe socially conservative people should loosen up and get with the times. Why? Because the fist bump — sometimes called a dap — is a more hygienic form of greeting than shaking hands, or so a new study suggests.

As The Associated Press reported, David Whitworth of Aberystwyth University in Wales and a student shook hands, fist-bumped and high-fived each other dozens of times and measured how much bacteria they transferred.

The results, published online Monday in the American Journal of Infection Control, showed that the fist bump spreads one-twentieth the amount of bacteria as a handshake does. A high-five passes along less than half the amount as a handshake. The reason apparently is that the fist bump and the high-five involve a smaller surface area in contact between two hands.

The handshake has an ancient history and knights are said to have offered a hand in greeting as a sign they were not carrying a weapon — and it would be sad if that tradition died. On the other hand, medieval times were not the most sanitary.

If polite society decides to change, the question is: Will a man be judged on the firmness of his fist bump?

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