Greener play areas boost children’s immune systems, research finds

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Children whose outdoor play areas were transformed from gravel yards to mini-forests showed improved immune systems within a month, research has shown.The scientists believe this is because the children had developed significantly more diverse microbes on their skin and in their guts than the children whose playgrounds were not upgraded.Across the western world, rates of autoimmune diseases, where the body mistakenly attacks itself, are rising. The diseases include asthma, eczema, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. A leading possible explanation for this trend, called the hygiene hypothesis, is that children are being exposed to far fewer microbes than in the past. This means their immune systems are less challenged and more prone to making mistakes.Previous studies have shown statistical associations between exposure to microbial diversity and the development of a well-functioning immune system. But this is the first study to deliberately change the children’s environment and therefore indicate a causal link.The researchers said their experiment shows it may be possible to improve the development of the immune system with relatively simple changes to the living environments of urban children.The study involved 75 children in two cities in Finland, a relatively small number for …

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