Exposure to the family dog and more siblings reduced the risk of babies developing egg allergies, according to a Melbourne study.
Allergy experts from Melbourne's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute studied more than 5000 babies and found those with young siblings and infants exposed to a dog inside the home were less likely to develop an allergic reaction to egg, News.com.au reported
According to the study published in the journal Allergy, food allergies now affect up to 10 per cent of babies.
It found 10.8 per cent of infants with no siblings were allergic to egg but as the number of brothers and sisters increased the incidence of egg allergy decreased.
Meanwhile, about 10 per cent of babies in households without a dog had an egg allergy compared to only six per cent of those with a dog.
Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Koplin said the risk of developing a food allergy seemed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
She said the immune system evolved at a time when people were exposed to more bacteria in food and the water supply, and infections through crowding and larger families.
Dr Koplin said it was possible developing infants were now not exposed to the right environmental factors to teach their immune systems how to react appropriately.
"They are reacting inappropriately to something that they should be able to tolerate which is in this case, food allergens, or food proteins," Dr Koplin told a foreign news agency.
The research suggested the protective effect of a family dog on egg allergy could be due to exposure to endotoxin, a type of bacteria.
Dr Koplin said endotoxin stimulates the immune system to attack bad bacteria and in doing so, is distracted from attacking harmless things in the environment like foods.
The study also found babies with a family history of allergy and those with parents born in East Asian countries like China and Vietnam are at increased risk of egg allergy.
Dr Koplin said East Asian families, as well as being genetically at higher risk of food allergy, may be exposed to different bacteria in their home countries.
"When they migrate over here and the kids are born here, they don't have that same exposure that suppresses the development of allergy," she said.
"The research suggested the protective effect of a family dog on egg allergy could be due to exposure to endotoxin, a type of bacteria"
Speaking at the launch of a new outdoor education centre at Kings Park, Dr Roberts said the way children were being raised had changed more rapidly than any time in human history.
"Physical activity has always been about play outdoors, and this is being lost. There are many causes, but in the past two generations, the principal culprit has been electronic screen exposure," he said.
"The impact upon children of this cultural change is seen in their health and psychological development."
Dr Roberts, a consultant paediatrician and former Australian Medical Association WA branch president, said the trend became evident when he asked children to make three "magic wishes" when taking a medical history.
"With alarming regularity, they devote at least two and often all three wishes to electronic screens," he said.
"Likewise there is a television in every second child's bedroom, and then the ubiquitous hand-held device to help them tolerate the perceived boredom of the still, the quiet times."
He said while children from previous generations discovered the natural world as a virtue of childhood, "that is no longer the case, and for our culture, it probably will never be rediscovered."
"And attempts to simply wind the clock back to the childhood experience so many of us enjoyed is simply unattainable," he said.
Dr Roberts said society must find new ways to enable children to engage with the outdoors, and said the new facilities at Kings Park were a "good start."
The education centre includes 20 "living classrooms", such as tree logs for seating under shady trees, a jetty in the Water Corporation Wetland and a concrete-lined fire pit facility for Aboriginal story telling.
A report from the University of WA, commissioned last year for the state government, found electronic screen use, such as watching television or DVDs, and using computers, video games and portable devices, was the most common leisure activity of youth in Australia.
It found a large majority of children and adolescents in Australia exceed the recommended maximum of two hours a day of screen use for leisure, and the reduction in time spent outdoors was resulting in negative outcomes, such as obesity, poor sleep habits, loneliness and depression.
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