Researchers from Switzerland and four other European countries are joining forces to investigate why some children are less susceptible to allergies than others. The study comes as new figures show that one in three children in rich countries is affected by allergic disorders.
Switzerland is joining Sweden, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in the study of up to 9,000 children. The scientists are particularly interested to know why the children of farmers, as well as those who attend Rudolf Steiner schools, are less susceptible to allergic disorders.
"It's about infection," says Marco Waser, research student at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at Basel University.
"Farmer's children have much lower prevalence of allergies than other children living in the same area and one point is the contact with livestock. This contact with animals perhaps protects against sensitivity to allergies.
"If you have older brothers and sisters, you also have a lower risk of getting an allergy. That's because older sisters and brothers infect you and the immune system learns about these infections."
In each country, three groups of children are being studied - Rudolf Steiner children, children from state schools, and children from farming families. Each group consists of about 600 children and in Switzerland, all come from rural areas around Basel, Emmental and Entlebuch.
Rudolf Steiner embraced a lifestyle philosophy, covering everything from spiritual and mystical teachings to nutrition.
"Rudolf Steiner children are not vaccinated," says Marco Waser. "And if you are not vaccinated, you have a greater risk of getting diseases like measles. In Sweden they've shown that Rudolf Steiner children have more measles and that perhaps is the same hypothesis about infection."
The study will be wide-ranging and cover everything from blood testing to dust measurement to diet. The researchers expect to take up to four years to interpret all the data they collect.
by Vincent Landon