Monday, November 16, 2009

Food Allergies on the Rise?

If your kids are in school, they no doubt know someone who has a food allergy. It is everywhere these days. Some people, even some experts, have said the increase is due to more parents reporting the symptoms. But a new study says that is not the only factor. More kids really are getting food allergies. But why? Here's the story from ABC. Do you know anyone with a food allergy? My kindergartner has one child in his class allergic to peanuts.

FROM ABC: New research from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics offers compelling evidence that the spike in childhood food allergies is for real. The study confirmed past findings that the prevalence for childhood allergies has increased at least 18 percent since 1993, and found that the number of visits to a physician, emergency room, or hospital clinic for food allergy-related care has tripled in that time period. Though the study cannot rule out increased reporting by parents as a contributing factor in this trend, allergists and pediatricians agree that food allergies in kids have become a growing concern.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of the Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, says "it's a mini-epidemic for sure." What has brought on this mini-epidemic? "That is the question that everyone wants to know the answer [to] and so far there is only speculation as to why," says Burks.

One theory is that certain foods, like nuts, may be introduced too early to children, perhaps as nut oils in creams or lotions used on infants, Bassett says. "Changes in the environment and food processing" is also "thought to play a part," Burks says. The leading theory explaining the effects of these environmental changes is called the hygiene hypothesis.

This theory "contends that immune systems become over-reactive in very clean environments, [like those] associated with the medicine and hygiene practices [used today]," says Dr. Bill Parker, assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center, and advocate of the hygiene hypothesis.

In these super-clean environments, he says, "the immune system essentially lacks a normal workload... however, [it] does what it is built to do, and finds something to attack, often directing its attention toward such harmless things as pollen grains ... even healthy food."

But whether it's exposure to certain foods too early or exposure to germs too late, once a child has an allergy, "the number one treatment is education [and] preventing reactions," Bassett says.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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