Open Access Open Badges Research article

Sibling number and prevalence of allergic disorders in pregnant Japanese women: baseline data from the Kyushu Okinawa Maternal and Child Health Study

Yoshihiro Miyake1*, Keiko Tanaka1 and Masashi Arakawa2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Fukuoka University, Fukuoka, Japan

2 Field Science for Health and Recreation, Faculty of Tourism Sciences and Industrial Management, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2011, 11:561  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-561

Published: 14 July 2011



Although an inverse relationship between number of siblings and likelihood of allergic disorders has been shown in many epidemiological studies, the biological mechanism underlying this phenomenon has not yet been identified. There is no epidemiological research regarding the sibling effect on allergic disorders in Japanese adults. The current cross-sectional study examined the relationship between number of siblings and prevalence of allergic disorders among adult women in Japan.


Subjects were 1745 pregnant women. This study was based on questionnaire data. The definitions of wheeze and asthma were based on criteria from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey whereas those of eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis were based on criteria from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. Adjustment was made for age, region of residence, pack-years of smoking, secondhand smoke exposure at home and at work, family history of asthma, atopic eczema, and allergic rhinitis, household income, and education.


The prevalence values of wheeze, asthma, eczema, and rhinoconjunctivitis in the past 12 months were 10.4%, 5.5%, 13.0%, and 25.9%, respectively. A significant inverse exposure-response relationship was observed between the number of older siblings and rhinoconjunctivitis, but not wheeze, asthma, or eczema (P for trend = 0.03); however, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for having 2 or more older siblings was not significant although the adjusted OR for having 1 older sibling was statistically significant (adjusted OR = 0.71 [95% CI: 0.56-0.91]). Number of total siblings and number of younger siblings were not related to wheeze, asthma, eczema, or rhinoconjunctivitis.


This study found a significant inverse relationship between the number of older siblings and the prevalence of rhinoconjunctivitis among pregnant Japanese women. Our findings are likely to support the intrauterine programming hypothesis; however, we could not rule out the hygiene hypothesis.