Children bought up on farms are less likely to develop asthma, according to a study published in the latest edition of the Lancet journal (2001; pp. 1129-33).

Researchers from the Salzburg-based Paediatric Pulmonology and Allergology Children’s Hospital undertook a cross-sectional survey in rural areas of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, in which 2618 (75%) of 3504 parents of six to 13-year-old children completed a standardised questionnaire on asthma, hay fever, and atopic eczema.

They found that for children younger than one year, exposure to stables and regular consumption of farm milk was linked to lower frequencies of asthma, hay fever and atopic sensitization. Furthermore, continual long-term exposure to these factors until the age of 5 years could cause the lowest frequencies of asthma.

The study was important in proving that increased exposure to microbial compounds early in life could effect the maturation of the immune system and have a positive protective effect, reducing the risk that a person will develop an allergic disease.