birth cohort; community-based participatory research; environmental exposure; Groffdale Mennonite Conference; Penn Yan, New York


Old Order Mennonites (OOM) follow a traditional agrarian lifestyle; key aspects include home births, large families, limited antibiotic usage, consumption of whole foods and unpasteurized milk, and early exposure to soil, stables, and farm animals. There is evidence that a farming lifestyle protects against asthma and allergies, yet the biological mechanisms behind this protective effect remain unknown. The “Zooming into Old Order Mennonites” (ZOOM) cohort study was established to further explore protective factors and mechanisms. This study compares immune development among OOM children from the Finger Lakes Region of New York to those residing 65 miles northwest in Rochester, NY. Participants completed prenatal and post-natal questionnaires and biomarker sampling throughout the infant’s first two years. Questionnaires on lifestyle, diet, and environmental exposures continued through year five. The success of this study depended on a partnership between the University of Rochester study team and the OOM community, which began in 2009 with a pilot study on prenatal lifestyle behaviors and environmental exposures. Since then, the study team and the OOM community have collaborated to investigate the prevalence and mechanisms underlying atopic disease. The study team has remained mindful of OOM cultural practices by carefully engaging community members and potential participants through key informant interviews, focus groups, and “town hall” data-sharing meetings. To truly respect this community, they must be involved at every step of the research process. Through these efforts, the ZOOM study team recruited 90 OOM mother-infant pairs. Ultimately, this study marks a step closer to preventing allergic disease. [Abstract by authors.]