BACKGROUND: Atopic eczema in infants has increased in western societies. Environmental factors and the introduction of food may affect the risk of eczema. AIMS: To investigate the prevalence of eczema among infants in western Sweden, describe patterns of food introduction and assess risk factors for eczema at 1 year of age.

METHODS: Data were obtained from a prospective, longitudinal cohort study of infants born in western Sweden in 2003; 8176 families were randomly selected and, 6 months after the infant's birth, were invited to participate and received questionnaires. A second questionnaire was sent out when the infants were 12 months old. Both questionnaires were completed and medical birth register data were obtained for 4921 infants (60.2% of the selected population).

RESULTS: At 1 year of age, 20.9% of the infants had previous or current eczema. Median age at onset was 4 months. In multivariable analysis, familial occurrence of eczema, especially in siblings (OR 1.87; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.50 to 2.33) or the mother (OR 1.54; 95% CI 1.30 to 1.84), remained an independent risk factor. Introducing fish before 9 months of age (OR 0.76; 95% CI 0.62 to 0.94) and having a bird in the home (OR 0.35; 95% CI 0.17 to 0.75) were beneficial.

CONCLUSIONS: One in five infants suffer from eczema during the first year of life. Familial eczema increased the risk, while early fish introduction and bird keeping decreased it. Breast feeding and time of milk and egg introduction did not affect the risk.