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Farm Kids Are Healthy

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Rural kids are warding off the flu bug; some are saying it’s their enhanced immune systems from a lifetime in the dirt.

I’ll admit there were times growing up when my sisters and I got so dirty playing outside that Mom threatened to hose us down outside before letting us in the house. We had water fights in the wash rack while hosing down our show calves; we made mud pies on occasion (yeah, it was probably wasn’t mud); we built forts in the shelter belt; we climbed trees; we picked wild flowers in the pastures; we helped weed the garden and pick vegetables; we even made a game out of scooping manure out of the barn!

I probably sound like an old-timer when I say this, but when I was a kid, we didn’t spend a lot of time inside playing on the computer. There was too much fun to be had outside!

I don’t know if we were healthier because of it, but we certainly were exposed to more germs on the farm, undoubtedly toughening up our immune systems. For instance, there's a nasty flu bug currently rampaging across the country, but some folks are noticing that it's a bigger issue in urban areas. Is that due to heightened rural immunity, fewer numbers, or both?

As reported by ABC News, farm kids are simply healthier.

“Peter and Shannon McDonald have made their home on a farm with their nine children. They are surrounded by farm animals — filthy ones, including chickens and slobbering pigs — but the eight boys and one brave girl have always been in perfect health. It turns out that in a culture obsessed with cleanliness and anti-bacterial lotion, the animals may be one of the reasons these kids are so healthy.

“A study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has found that some non-farm families are diagnosed with asthma nearly twice as much as their farm-dwelling counterparts. The results for hay fever were even more pronounced, with nearly four times as many non-farm family members diagnosed.

“Animals in general can be beneficial. A study published last year in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that babies raised around dogs are 31% more likely to be healthy. Cats were shown to improve a baby’s health by 6%. The research suggests that exposure to pets may help children’s immune systems mature faster, with animals helping them grow antibodies to better combat infections.

“In addition to animals, studies show that having even a small backyard garden means you’ll eat five times as many vegetables, which can dramatically decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.”

So, what do you think? Are you healthier for living on a farm? Are your ranch kids able to buck the flu easier? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Tony (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

I firmly believe our four children were healthier (and happier) being raised in our farm environment. They stayed constantly exposed to whatever mother nature had going on and to all of the nitty gritty of raising animals for fun and food. And they rarely missed any school or activity because of illness.

I also believe and see evidence that those same four children, all adults now, are better adjusted, have a good grip on real life, and are making more productive contributions to the world than many of the more sedentary, urban kids they grew up with. [I realize that some of that is parental bias, but there is a lot of truth in that evaluation!]

Juanita Reed-Boniface (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

I have been blessed with good health all my life--I certainly attribute much of that to fresh air, sunshine, lots of milk to drink, meat, fruit, veggies--and growing up in the country!!

Bob (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

Right On! Maybe I,m just lucky but I,ve probably missed 10-15 days of work for infectious illness over the past 60 years. Constant contact with animals and work. Farm kids also are often stronger individuals who believe in taking care of themselves rather than hitting the emergency room every time they sneeze. Red meat most every day and never had "food poisoning" except outside the US.

BonanzaChris (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

Exercise, fresh air, responsibility, healthy mindset! You won't find many farm kids in a dark corner of the house playing video games. They learn to work (and play) for the good of the family enterprise, they have a family-based self identity and value system, which means less stress, healthier outlook on life, and better physical health. We grow good people out here!

Mary (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2013

Well said!

on Jan 24, 2013

Since when does not playing video games confer immunity from microbes? Ah, but you say, being out in the fresh air on the ranch is best for the kids! Yes, I retort, except for the kid I know who got bitten by the tick and wound up with Lyme Disease and a lifelong handicap. Which happened before her father was thrown from the horse and broke his back.

I take pleasure in none of this. The countryside is great, for sure, but farm work has a comparatively high accident rate, virtue or no virtue. And microbes really don't care who or what you worship, or what your "values" are. Or whether you take responsibility (or farm subsidies), or work, or play.

You grow good people? Yes and no. What you actually do is grow people, all of whom fall short because that is human nature. And who get sick, and who die. Funny about that: none of us is getting out of here alive.

Enjoy America the Beautiful, but always remember: pride is a sin.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

I was born and raised in the city and became a Nurse Practitioner. I'm smart enough to know where to go to get my healthy germs. I make a point of going around to all the farms, asking for farm foods, the dirtiest unwashed eggs, raw milk, fresh vegetables, anything fermented and I beg to play with the livestock-my goal to innoculate myslelf with as many kinds of bacteria possible. The result? No illness. Immunity to Campylobacter, Salmonella, Linteria and a free healthy life independant of yearly flu shots. I'm happy to report that I contracted the flu this year and fought it off myself in 2 days gaining active lifetime immunity to the thing. So mutate away for next year , . I'm ready! THANK YOU MY DEAR LOCAL FARMERS.

Katlyn Rumbold (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

I definitely think living on a farm builds stronger immunities. I can count on one hand how many times my family has been to the hospital and that's been because we've been involved in car accidents; not illness. There is something about the fresh air and working outside.

Craig Maltby (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

Those basic microbes in dirt, animals, plants, etc. appear to "train" the immune system at a young age for a lifetime of service. Similar results have been studied on farms in Europe as well. An overly sterilized childhood may, indeed, result in more ear infections, cold/flu, allergies, etc. When the body suddenly encounters a new bacterium or virus it had not earlier confronted, its immune response can go haywire and over-react, causing a multitude of lasting, inflammatory symptoms. Hence, all the sickness.

More on this under "farm" search window at balancedimmunehealth.com

robert fischer nymous (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

if all kids could grow on a farm they would not have the problems that their is in todays world with kids I should know i am a 80 year kid Farmer Bob

Terry Church (not verified)
on Jan 21, 2013

No better place for kids to grow up than in the country or on a farm or ranch. Fresh air and a little dirt has to be good for you. If more kids grew up on farms there would be fewer problems. They could learn so many good things such as a good work ethnic, respect for people, animals and the land. The country is just a Great Place!

Jake J (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2013

We need to be reasonable. Some of the postings here, including to a slight degree the original posting, seem to hint at something ancient: that virtue and health are connected. This might be somewhat the case with certain methods of transmission, but not with, say, asthma and other bugs.

In the cities, there are simply more people, and more opportunities to swap germs. The basics are covered in the modern city, an example being the role of sewage systems in preventing cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, salmonella, and hepatitis, to name a few.

Those are mostly gone now, but there are other health threats in the city: common cold, pneumonia, flu, and yes, asthma. Some of them are easily prevented simply by being more vigilant about washing hands. If you live on a ranch, the sheer isolation means that you are much less likely to come into contact with other peoples' germs.

In the city, it's easy to let one's guard down. A few years ago, after a long period of catching several colds every winter, I decided to get more vigilant and wash my hands after handling folding money, before eating, and before preparing food. In the past three winters, I have had one cold, compared to at least 10 colds in the three years before that.

This is not a matter of virtue or morality, it's a matter of the probability tables. As far as asthma goes, maybe some of the rural folks who read this site will recall the early deaths suffered by many wheat farmers. The name of that malady is emphysema, and it was caused by fine wheat dust. It's been radically reduced by the air filtration systems in modern combines.

A friend of mine some years back grew up near Eugene, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley. There were big grass seed operations there, and every year they'd burn the fields. He suffered from asthma until he moved away.

In the midst of the big cities, you have a lot of poor ghetto kids with asthma. This being America, where in many ways our only real god is the Almighty Dollar, no one pays much attention to what happens to poor people, or why.

It turns out that the "smog reduction" systems on automobiles work by reducing the size of exhaust particles. The exhaust is still there, and it still gets into lungs. It's just that people don't see it in the air, so they think it's gone.

The same is true of airplanes. I live under a flight path in Seattle, and can attest that a lot of junk falls out of the sky. Any horizontal surface in my yard gets dirty pretty fast. How do I know it's coming from planes? Because I've lived in other cities where planes flew nearby, and saw the effect. I lived in an apartment in Boston with windows on two sides. The sills facing the flight path would be covered in fine grit within a month, while the others needed cleaning only once a year.

My point is this: Rural folks, feel as good as you want to about where you live. In many ways I envy it, at least for those of you in scenic, uncrowded, peaceful places. But please don't imagine that rural mean virtue, and that virtue means immunity from disease and heath issues. It just doesn't work that way.

Honest to God, I wish you the best. But any connection between environmental disease and homespun virtue is an illusion.

Jerome Behm (not verified)
on Jan 25, 2013

These were all some very interesting comments and most of them were from the hearts and convictions of good, honest rural folks. I can easily concur with all of these people who voiced their opinions in support of the rural life which gives us so many opportunities to be productive and in step with nature.

I can't help but take a defensive stand with Jake J's opinion. It would seem from my interpretation of what he wrote that he takes pleasure in demeaning the rural way of life and the benefits and blessings that we in this environment are able to have in abundance on a daily basis. Of course there are risks and dangers in any type of lifestyle and living, and none of us is immune from those. And of course we all get sick sometimes and we all will eventually die. What is the point? The fact remains that no matter what we do or don't do in life, we will all meet our demise at sometime. Those who don't work, are never productive, never exert their bodies or brain, and can't see the glorious benefits in a rural lifestyle and work ethic will all die one day too. As for me, I am very thankful that I was born on these productive plains and ranch lands to an ambitious set of parents who saw all of this as being a wonderful way to make an honest living and who also knew that it is a great environment in which to raise a family. To add to my parents' testimony of all of this, I farm and ranch in partnership with 3 of my 4 brothers. I might add too that one of my brother partners is also an equine/bovine veterinarian. It has been a great lifestyle, and one that I would never consider trading for any other lifestyle or locale. Jake J needs to fess up to the fact that in this crowd anyway, he is outnumbered!

Blake (not verified)
on Jan 29, 2013

I rarely ever get sick as he said when i was younger i was too busy playing outside to be on the computer

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