EU membership may have led to allergy increase in rural Poland

December 16, 2013

Poland's entry into the EU may have had the surprising consequence of increasing allergies in rural villages, according to a new study. Surveys show that the prevalence of atopy, a predisposition towards allergic reactions, jumped from seven per cent to 20 per cent in villages in southwest Poland between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists believe the rise is linked to changes in farming practices that occurred when Poland adopted of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. In 2003, many villagers kept cows or pigs on their land, but after joining the EU it became uneconomical to do so.

Exposure to farm animals, especially at a young age, is thought to protect against developing allergies. The findings add to evidence that westernised lifestyles increase the risk of allergic diseases.

Previous research has suggested that farm dwellers, especially children who grow up on farms, have lower rates of hayfever and atopy than people living in towns.

Study author Professor Paul Cullinan, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said: "Asthma, hayfever, and other allergic diseases are becoming more common in many countries and there's growing evidence that they're linked to modern, clean lifestyles.

"We found that rapid changes in farming practices after Poland joined the EU were accompanied by a sharp increase in allergies over a very short period of time. It's likely that similar changes are occurring in other places in Europe, and we can expect that elsewhere in the world, we may see major increases in allergies, asthma and hayfever over the coming decades as countries become more westernised and less rural."

Researchers from Wroclaw Medical University and Imperial College London conducted surveys in villages and a small town in southwest Poland in 2003, one year before Poland joined the EU, and 2012, to study the prevalence of asthma, hayfever, and atopy, which is diagnosed with a skin prick test.

In 2003, 7.3 per cent of villagers tested positive for atopy, compared with 20 per cent of townspeople. In 2012, the prevalence of atopy in villages had risen to 19.6 per cent. Hayfever also rose, from 3.0 per cent to 7.7 per cent, but the prevalence of asthma did not change significantly. In towns, there were no changes in the prevalence of allergies.

Twenty-four per cent of village dwellers had regular or occasional contact with cows in 2003, but this fell to four per cent in 2012. Thirty-three per cent had contact with pigs in 2003 but only 14 per cent in 2012.

The study appears in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland.
-end-
For more information please contact:

Sam Wong
Research Media Officer
Imperial College London
Email: sam.wong@imperial.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)20 7594 2198
Out of hours duty press officer: +44(0)7803 886 248

Notes to editors

1. Reference: B. Sozanska et al. 'Atopy and allergic respiratory disease in rural Poland before and after accession to the European Union.' Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2013. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2013.10.035

2. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.

Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk

Imperial College London

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