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Agricultural land cover around the home may decrease the risk of type 1 diabetes

Published on 26.5.2021
Tampere University
viitekuvassa peltoa, jossa säilörehupaketteja
By analysing land cover data, Finnish researchers found that children who lived near agricultural areas during their first year of life had on average a lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes than children living in an urban environment.

The land cover data was compiled by combining the analysis of satellite imagery with geographic data. In the study, the agricultural environment consisted of arable land, fruit and berry plantations and pastures, while the urban environment contained built areas (including eg industrial, commercial, transport, residential and sport and leisure areas).

The study suggests that this association could be explained by the microbes transferred indoors from the environment. The microbial diversity of agricultural environments has been found to be high, which in turn could protect children from the immunological malfunctions associated with type 1 diabetes.

“In previous studies, exposure to diverse environmental microbiota has also been shown to reduce the risk of allergic diseases. Therefore, urbanisation which is connected to the reduction of protective microbial exposure might have contributed to the rapid increase in the prevalence of not only type 1 diabetes but also other immune mediated diseases,” says Master of Science Noora Nurminen from Tampere University. The published study is part of her doctoral thesis.

“It appears that microbial exposure in early childhood can improve the regulation of the immune system and prevent harmful overactivity, which is behind, for example, allergic diseases and type 1 diabetes,” Professor Heikki Hyöty from Tampere University adds.

Hyöty also emphasises the importance of the Finnish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention Study (DIPP) in achieving these new results since the analysis was based on data from more than 10,000 children who were followed from birth in the cities of Tampere, Turku and Oulu.

“Biodiversity is rapidly declining, and therefore the microbial diversity of the environment is also reduced. The microbiota of woodlands and rural environments is inherently rich, but human activities have led to the decrease of many microbial-rich habitat types. In addition, urbanisation has cut off our contact with the microbes in our environment,” says Adjunct Professor Aki Sinkkonen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE).

Together with Hyöty, they have been looking for ways to restore this connection. The Tampere University Hospital (TAYS) is currently looking for new-borns from volunteer allergy families for the PREVALL study where babies receive a daily ‘forest bath’. The aim is to find out whether a moss and forest soil powder applied to an infant’s skin and clothing protects against the development of allergies.

“The published results are also important for urban planning,” says Professor Juho Rajaniemi from Tampere University. His research group has been studying the use of data collected by satellites in urban planning research.

“We have learnt to use the data collected by satellites to analyse land cover in scientific research. In the current study, the European CORINE land cover data, based on data collected by the LISS, SPOT and RapidEye satellites, was used,” Rajaniemi adds.

The study is a part of the Business Finland-funded ADELE project involving Tampere University, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) and the University of Helsinki. The DIPP study has been funded, among others, by the US-based JDRF Foundation, Finnish foundations, and the University Hospitals of Tampere, Turku, and Oulu.

The original research article:
Nurminen N, Cerrone D, Lehtonen J, Parajuli A, Roslund M, Lönnrot M, Ilonen J, Toppari J, Veijola R, Knip M, Rajaniemi J, Laitinen OH, Sinkkonen A, Hyöty H. Land Cover of Early Life Environment Modulates the Risk of Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2021 May 5:dc201719.

Contact persons
Researcher Noora Nurminen, noora.nurminen [at]
Professor of Virology Heikki Hyöty, heikki.hyoty [at]
Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University



Photo: Jonne Renvall



Kuva: Jonne Renvall