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Keywords:

  • allergen exposure;
  • asthma;
  • hygiene;
  • lifestyle;
  • prevalence

The hygiene hypothesis states that a reduced exposure to allergens in early life is solely implicated in the growing propensity for allergy sensitization. Important elements of the hypothesis include helminth infection, exposure to endotoxins, exposure to pets and growing up on a farm. However, the hygiene hypothesis alone does not provide an adequate explanation for the observed increase in allergic disease. For example, in North American inner cities, asthma is increasing among children who live in very poor housing, which might be assumed to be somewhat dirty. In order to explain the increase in asthma, we need to take a broader view and also consider alterations related to the adoption of a western lifestyle. It has been suggested that lifestyle changes related to obesity (e.g. a change in diet) are associated with asthma. Other changes include a progressive decrease in physical activity. This lifestyle factor seems to correlate best with the recent increase in asthma. Clearly, the link between physical activity and asthma needs to be investigated in more detail.