Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 327 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 22-Nov-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 23-Nov-2004
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Study finds farm children have lower asthma rates

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin have recently completed the largest and most comprehensive study of asthma among rural children in the US. In one of the first studies of its kind, the researchers found that farm children had significantly lower rates of asthma or wheezing than other rural children. The study funded by Children’s Hospital and Health System Foundation is published in the online issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology it will appear in the January print issue.

According to lead investigator, Alan Adler, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College, and pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital, the study found that compared to other rural children, farm children were less likely to have ever had wheezing or asthma. Asthma prevalence was higher among non-farm, rural children when compared with farm-reared children and even higher among those described as living in town. Among both non-farm rural children and children in town, asthma rates were similar to those seen in cities such as Milwaukee or Chicago.

“Studies have demonstrated that asthma is very common among inner-city children. It has been referred to as a problem of epidemic proportions by some. In contrast, little is known about asthma in rural areas like Wisconsin where 28 percent of the population lives in non metropolitan areas, almost half a million children.”

In cooperation with rural school districts throughout Wisconsin investigators sent out questionnaires to 37,500 families living in rural school districts as defined by US Census data. Almost 5,000 families responded.

Findings from the study showed that those on farms were significantly less likely to have ever had asthma or wheezing. This effect was more apparent for younger children and appeared to be related to living on a farm early in life. Asthma rates among those who lived on a farm only during later childhood were no different from those who did not live on a farm. Other findings show:

• Farm-reared children were significantly less likely to have a history of wheezing or a diagnosis of asthma. They also reported less use of asthma medications.

• Children who were living on a farm both before and after the age of five years had significantly less asthma than those who only lived on a farm after the age of five years.

• The effects of farm life were less evident in adolescence, suggesting that the effects of the farm environment waned, or that over time, other unidentified factors came to have a greater effect on asthma

• Among younger children, farm rearing was associated with both decreased exercise induced symptoms and a chronic night cough, both hallmarks of childhood asthma.

• Although asthma was less common in farm children, other allergic diseases studied, such as hay fever or allergic rashes, were not. The reasons for this are not understood.

The study identified characteristics of farming families that distinguished them from the non-farm families and are thought by the investigators to possibly play a role in reducing asthma among farm children. Compared to non-farm children, farm children had more siblings, were more likely to be breast-fed and to have outdoor pets. They were less likely to attend daycare.

In previous European studies, growing up on a farm has been associated with decreased asthma and allergies. It has been hypothesized that environmental or lifestyle factors unique to farm life may be protective. However, before this study, asthma had not been extensively investigated among rural children in the U.S., where farms tend to be large, environmental manipulation frequent, and children less involved in farming than their counterparts in Europe.

According to Dr. Adler, “There is now an impressive body of evidence demonstrating that there is less asthma among children growing up on a farm.” Their unique lifestyle and environmental exposures may provide investigators with a valuable model for studying the development of asthma.”

Dr. Adler is beginning studies of farm children with asthma in Wisconsin to further understand those factors.

Additional Vidyya Resources:

Resources, Patient Education, and Information:

     Asthma: Cockroaches, asthma, and allergies
     Asthma: How Asthma-Friendly Is Your Child-Care Setting?
     Asthma: Information for schools and parents - The asthma action card
   Asthma: Living with asthma - special concerns for older adults
   Asthma-related Publications and Resources
   Interactive Health Asthma Tutorial (view on-line or print), MEDLINEplus, the National Library of Medicine's consumer-health site
   Focus on Asthma, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (Last updated August 29, 2001)
   School Asthma Education Slide Set, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
   Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD): Teaching Slide Set
   A Presentation on Asthma Management and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control: Asthma Presentation (last reviewed June 23, 2003)

News Articles:

   Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says allergy sufferers need to study -23-March-2004
   Asthma could be several diseases masquerading as one -09-January-2004
       Asthmatic patients with sinusitis more likely to have nasal polyps -19-September-2004
   Cell associated with asthma linked to tobacco smoke -26-April-2004
   Customized program reduces asthma-related illness in inner-city children -10-September-2004
   Domestic solvents, cleaning products may increase childhood asthma risk -27-August-2004
   Early childhood ear infections linked to asthma -11-May-2004
   Environment and diet may explain different rates of asthma -31-August-2004
   Ethnicity may affect allergies in children with asthma -14-January-2004
   Genetics play role in response to most common asthma drug -23-October-2004
   Greater acetaminophen use can lead to newly diagnosed asthma in women -26-March-2004
   Ingredient in asthma inhaler drug may counteract inhaler benefits -24-March-2004
     Low activity levels found among children with asthma due to parental health beliefs -5-April-2004
     Mayo Clinic researchers define link between eosinophils and asthma -17-September-2004
     New diagnostic test for asthma -18-February-2004
   No asthma exacerbation help from children's flu vaccination -18-February-2004
   Parents' anti-asthma efforts may miss the mark -17-August-2004
   Planned-care method" of asthma care reduces kids' symptoms -6-September-2004
     RSV can increase the risk of asthma -29-June-2004
   Regular use of asthma drugs poses respiratory, cardiac dangers -18-June-2004
   Respiratory therapists twice as likely to have asthma than other therapists -12-October-2004
   Three-fourths of children with asthma unprepared for an exercise-induced bronchospasm -9-July-2004
   Vital amino acid levels lower in asthmatics -15-July-2004
   Yale researchers discover new potential asthma therapeutic targets related to parasites and insects -13-June-2004

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