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An Empirical Test of the Biodiversity Hypothesis: Exposure to Plant Diversity is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

30 Pages Posted: 20 May 2020

See all articles by Geoffrey Donovan

Geoffrey Donovan

Massey University - Center for Public Health Research

Demetrios Gatziolis

USDA Forest Service

Andrea 't Mannetje

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

Robert Weinkove

Cancer Immunotherapy Programme, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Caroline Fyfe

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

Jeroen Douwes

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

More...

Abstract

Background:The biodiversity hypothesis posits that declining biodiversity may be responsible, at least in part, for the global increase in immune diseases. However, few studies have been able to demonstrate a link between exposure to biodiversity and specific health outcomes.

Methods: We test whether exposure to plant diversity protects against childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) by promoting immune maturation. Our sample consisted of all children born in New Zealand from 1998-2011 (n=899,126; 264 ALL cases), which we followed from birth to age five. We calculated plant-diversity metrics using the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which contains over two million geocoded plant records in New Zealand.

Findings: Consistent with previous research, children who had always lived in an urban area, or who had an older mother, were at greater risk for ALL, whereas children with older siblings were at lower risk. In addition, we found that plant-diversity metrics based on the maximum number of plant genera a child was exposed to during the first two years of life were protective of ALL. Specifically, exposure to the highest tertile of plant diversity was associated with a reduction in ALL risk of 35% (95% CI: 11%-53%).

Interpretation: Exposure to plant diversity, and associated microbial communities, may be a viable public-health intervention to reduce the risk of ALL and possibly other immune diseases.

Funding Statement: Geoffrey Donovan acknowledges the receipt of a fellowship from the OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems in 2019. No other funding was received.

Declaration of Interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Ethics Approval Statement: Our study was classified as out of scope by the New Zealand Health and Disabilities Ethics Committee, approved by Statistics New Zealand (approval # MAA2019-07), and conducted in accordance with national and international ethical guidelines for observational studies.

Keywords: Hygiene hypothesis; cancer; natural environment; immune diseases; greenness

Suggested Citation

Donovan, Geoffrey and Gatziolis, Demetrios and Mannetje, Andrea 't and Weinkove, Robert and Fyfe, Caroline and Douwes, Jeroen, An Empirical Test of the Biodiversity Hypothesis: Exposure to Plant Diversity is Associated with a Reduced Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (3/20/2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3559635 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3559635

Geoffrey Donovan (Contact Author)

Massey University - Center for Public Health Research ( email )

Wellington
New Zealand

Demetrios Gatziolis

USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Region
1220 SW 3rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
United States

Andrea 't Mannetje

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

Private Bag 11 222
Palmerston North, Manawatu 4442
New Zealand

Robert Weinkove

Cancer Immunotherapy Programme, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Wellington
New Zealand

Caroline Fyfe

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

Private Bag 11 222
Palmerston North, Manawatu 4442
New Zealand

Jeroen Douwes

Center for Public Health Research, Massey University

Private Bag 11 222
Palmerston North, Manawatu 4442
New Zealand

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