Growing up in the countryside surrounded by horses, pigs, cattle and sheep sounds idyllic enough on its own.
Now it turns out that in addition to the fresh air and the green fields, there is another good reason for living out the dream of moving to the countryside.
A new study shows that the risk of developing asthma and allergies is halved when children grow up on a farm, compared to children who grow up in the city and become farmers as adults.
“Our results show that being born in the countryside has a protective effect which lasts up until the age of 20-25 and maybe even beyond that,” says Torben Sigsgaard, a professor of occupational medicine at Aarhus University, who conducted the study in collaboration with researchers from the department of occupational medicine at Aalborg Hospital.
Since 1993, the researchers have observed all agriculture students from two year groups throughout Denmark – a total of 2,000 people. The students were surveyed regularly over a 15-year period, and that makes this study unique.
“We noticed some factors, such as smoking and working in pigsties, that caused an increased risk of developing asthma,” says Sigsgaard. “But when we looked at where the students had been raised, we saw that the risk was halved for those who had grown up in an agricultural environment surrounded by animals.”
The reason for that, the study found, is that from an early age, these children were heavily exposed to microorganisms in the farming environment.
“These microorganisms trick the immune system by stimulating it intensely, thus strengthening and balancing it throughout the rest of the children's lives.”
This study is consistent with previous studies, which have shown that children who grew up in cities are more likely to develop allergies.
Professor Sigsgaard hopes his findings will be helpful for all asthma and allergy sufferers.
“We hope we can now get closer to the mechanism that causes asthma and allergies, and maybe one day we can prevent these diseases altogether.”
The study has been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.