The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) is embarking on a $2.4 million study focused on a population that is virtually immune to food allergies: the Old Order Mennonite Community.
Fewer than 1 percent of Old Order Mennonites have food allergies, asthma, and other allergic diseases, which researchers believe is the result of several significant lifestyle differences from the general population. Overall, 1 in 13 American children — about 8 percent — develop a food allergy.
The study, led by Kirsi Jarvinen-Seppo, M.D., Ph.D, associate professor of Pediatric Allergy/Immunology, will compare immune system development in Old Order Mennonite infants with that of infants who are considered high-risk for developing a food allergy.
“Individuals in the Old Order Mennonite community often live on farms, avoid antibiotics, and deliver their babies at home — and as a result, they are exposed to a variety of bacteria that those living in the city or suburbs don’t come into contact with,” said Jarvinen-Seppo. “We believe that differences in lifestyles between these two groups affects how their immune systems develop and as a result, their susceptibility to food allergies”