Marshfield study: Kids raised on dairy farms less likely to get allergies, rashes

University of Wisconsin

MADISON - A study of rural children in the Marshfield area suggests that kids raised on dairy farms are much less likely to suffer severe respiratory illnesses, allergies and chronic skin rashes, according to the University of Wisconsin.

Christine Seroogy, associate professor of pediatrics, and James Gern, professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, worked with researchers at the Marshfield Clinic on the study.

“Seeing decreased allergies in farm-exposed children from the Marshfield area is in agreement with similar findings in Western Europe that found farm exposure is linked to allergic disease and wheezing illnesses,” Seroogy said. “But this is the first study to show an association between farm exposure and reduced medically-attended respiratory illnesses.”

Dr. Christine Seroogy

The study, published online by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was conducted in the Marshfield Epidemiologic Study Area. It compared 268 children ages five to 17 who lived on a dairy farm from birth to five years to 247 children who live in a rural area but never lived on a farm. The study included the use of questionnaires and review of electronic medical records.

Conditions that were significantly less common in farm-exposed children were allergic rhinitis or hay fever (17 percent compared with 28 percent) and eczema (7 percent vs. 19 percent). The study found children born onto dairy farms had much less severe respiratory illnesses during the first two years of life (16 percent in farm infants compared with 31 percent in non-farm infants.)

Dr. James Gern

“These findings suggest that environmental exposures or other elements of the farming lifestyle help kids to be resistant to both allergies and viral respiratory illnesses,” said Gern.

Seroogy and Gern said they are working on an additional study in Marshfield to identify which farm exposures might be beneficial, and to determine whether they stimulate development of the immune system during infancy. That study will help to determine how farm exposure reduces childhood respiratory illnesses.

The ultimate goal, Seroogy said, is to figure out how to bring the benefits of a farming lifestyle to non-farm children at risk for asthma and allergic diseases.    

Funding for the study was provided by the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, National Institute for Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.