Children of highly educated parents may be more prone to an irritating skin disorder than peers from less educated families, a new study suggests.
Austrian researchers note in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology that as many as one in five children between the ages of 6 and 14 suffer from atopic dermatitis, a common type of eczema, which causes itchy and scaly rashes.
According to the study’s authors, Dr. Gerald Haidinger and his Medical University of Vienna colleague, Dr. Andrea Weber, children whose parents had a high school or college diploma were, on average, about 30 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with eczema than children whose parents had less education.
The researchers thought to study the subject after seeing the results of two studies in their home country, one conducted from 1995 to 1997 and the other from 2001 to 2003. They noticed an increase over time in the number of children diagnosed with eczema: from 10 percent to about 13 percent.
Meanwhile, it appeared that the education level of the mothers was also on the rise. When Haidinger and Weber surveyed nearly 24,000 children in the two studies, they found the increased risk among children born to parents with more education. The finding took into account other risk factors, such as having a parent with the skin condition.
Much of this disparity seemed to revolve around mothers, whose education exerted a stronger effect than the father’s. Girls were also more affected than boys, which may just be due to the fact that girls would be more likely to be taken to a doctor for the same skin condition based on society’s ideas of beauty, suggest Haidinger and Weber.
Why would an academic degree be linked to skin disorders - if in fact it is, which Haidinger said needs more study? One leading theory, Haidinger told Reuters Health: “Higher education leads to greater awareness of childhood diseases.”
Dr. Jon Hanifin, an eczema expert at Oregon Health and Science University, agreed. “Educated people may be more disease-seeking - looking for any little thing,” he told Reuters Health. “They can also see the doctor more easily than people short on change,” assuming that a family’s education level and economic situation are linked.
The authors also suggest that some educated parents provide an overly germ-free environment for their child, which may lead to fewer infections and an improperly trained immune system - a theory known as the “hygiene hypothesis.”
Hanifin’s favorite explanation is the skin-drying effect of money. He suggests that people with more schooling are more likely to have central heating, bathe frequently, and apply skin care products that dry out the skin.
“They can afford to buy the fancy, perfumed lotions rather than the cheaper, greasier and more effective Vasoline,” said Hanifin. “It really is a disease of modern living.”