Yet another reason to trade city life for country living can be seen in the results of a recent study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics. Researchers found that children who lived in cities had a higher rate of food allergies than children who lived in rural areas. Allergies to shellfish and peanuts were particularly high, with city children suffering from those allergies twice as often as country kids.
Researchers studied a representative sample of 38,465 children in US households aged 18 and under, categorizing them by ZIP code. Of children in urban environments, 9.8 percent suffered from food allergies compared with 6.2 percent of children in rural areas. Allergies to shellfish were particularly prevalent in urban areas, with 2.4 percent of children suffering from the condition, as opposed to only 0.8 percent of rural children. City children did not fare better with peanut allergies either, with 2.8 percent suffering from allergies compared with 1.3 percent of children in rural communities.
The severity of food allergies did not differ between the two groups. Almost 40 percent of all children with food allergies had suffered at least one severe, life-threatening reaction already. States whose children have the highest rate of overall food allergies are Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Ruchi Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, said “This shows that environment has an impact on developing food allergies. Similar trends have been seen for related conditions like asthma. The big question is — what in the environment is triggering them? A better understanding of environmental factors will help us with prevention efforts.”
Between 1997 and 2007 the rate of children with food allergies has increased by 20 percent; and children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to suffer from asthma or allergies to other things as well. Scientists are not exactly sure why the rate of allergies is rising so steadily, though some attribute it to the increasingly “germophobic” world we live in. A study done by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center showed that children with high levels of antibacterial chemicals in their blood had approximately double the risk of developing environmental and food allergies.
Living in a rural area where children are more likely to be in closer proximity to dirt and farm animals can come into contact with a wide variety of microbes that they may not have access to in a city environment. A Finnish study found the greater the level of biodiversity in a child’s environment, the lower the prevalence of allergies of all types. They surmised that the wider variety of microbes also include many “friendly” ones that colonize in the body and help fight inflammatory diseases. This is especially important in children who are still developing their immune systems.
So if you live in a city, be sure to get out to the country on a regular basis and let your kids play in the dirt. It’s good for their health!