RATIONALE: Evidence has suggested that exposure to environmental or microbial biodiversity in early life may impact subsequent lung function and allergic disease risk.
OBJECTIVES: To investigate the influence of childhood living environment and biodiversity indicators on atopy, asthma and lung function in adulthood.
METHODS AND MEASUREMENTS: The European Community Respiratory Health Survey II investigated ∼10 201 participants aged 26-54 years from 14 countries, including participants' place of upbringing (farm, rural environment or inner city) before age 5 years. A 'biodiversity score' was created based on childhood exposure to cats, dogs, day care, bedroom sharing and older siblings. Associations with lung function, bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR), allergic sensitisation, asthma and rhinitis were analysed.
MAIN RESULTS: As compared with a city upbringing, those with early-life farm exposure had less atopic sensitisation (adjusted OR 0.46, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.58), atopic BHR (0.54 (0.35 to 0.83)), atopic asthma (0.47 (0.28 to 0.81)) and atopic rhinitis (0.43 (0.32 to 0.57)), but not non-atopic outcomes. Less pronounced protective effects were observed for rural environment exposures. Women with a farm upbringing had higher FEV1 (adjusted difference 110 mL (64 to 157)), independent of sensitisation and asthma. In an inner city environment, a higher biodiversity score was related to less allergic sensitisation.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to report beneficial effects of growing up on a farm on adult FEV1. Our study confirmed the beneficial effects of early farm life on sensitisation, asthma and rhinitis, and found a similar association for BHR. In persons with an urban upbringing, a higher biodiversity score predicted less allergic sensitisation, but to a lesser magnitude than a childhood farm environment.