Background: The results of recent studies suggest that factors in rural environments may protect against the development of allergic diseases, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of allergic diseases, to establish if this prevalence is influenced by migration from rural to urban areas and to identify environmental risk factors associated with these diseases. Methods: A cross-sectional study of children aged 9–12 years from a rural village, a rural town and an urban city in Korea was conducted. Demographic and disease-related information was obtained via a detailed questionnaire, and skin prick tests were performed. Results: There were significant differences in lifestyle and environmental factors between children from the rural village, the rural town and the urban children. The prevalence of allergic diseases and atopy was higher in urban children. A lower prevalence of allergic diseases and atopy was associated with farming parents, contact with farm animals during pregnancy, owning pets or a stable, breast-feeding and having older siblings. A comparison of rural village and rural town children revealed no evidence of an association of allergic diseases and atopy with farming parents, contact with farm animals during pregnancy or owning a stable. On the other hand, having older siblings and antibiotic use during infancy were significantly associated with allergic diseases and atopy in these children. Conclusions: Protective factors associated with a farming environment and/or rural lifestyle may influence the prevalence of allergic diseases and atopy in Korean children.

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