That dirt I ate as a kid is maybe why I have been relatively healthy. Ok, probably that hasn’t been the most important factor. But it may be that some dirt and germs (kids licking their dirty hands and the ice cream melts on it, etc.) is actually more important for their long term health than finishing off the broccoli (of course, a healthy diet requires eating a bunch of vegetables, more than most kids eat).
The hygiene hypothesis has become a popular explanation for the boom in asthma, allergies and other health problems. Boiled down to one sentence the hypothesis is that exposure to germs early in life creates a healthy immune system and too little exposure results in a hypersensitive immune system (that is not as effective and leads to things like allergies).
A recent closed science paper, Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function, found mice exposed to more germs early on where healthier:
The microscopic battles waged in our bodies every day and over our lifetimes are amazing.