Child Food Allergies on the Rise
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child food allergies are on the rise in the United States, while the increase of food allergies in children is also reported from other industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom. About 3 million of American children or 3.9 percent of kids under the age of 18 years had food allergy in 2007 which means that the number of kids with food allergy increased for 18 percent between the years 1997 and 2007. The scientists do not know why food allergies in children are on the rise. Several theories and hypotheses have been proposed but none of them can answer the question what is causing child food allergies which can in worst case lead to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis (similar to that experienced by people who are severely allergic to insect stings). One of the theories suggests that the rise of food allergy may be related to the Western dietary habits. The diet in industrialized countries changed dramatically in the last century and both children and adults are eating foods high in sugar, fat and calories and lower in essential nutrients. An Italian study that compared the gut flora between the European and African kids eating mostly locally grown food discovered that the European kids lack the diversity of microorganisms that are normally present in the human digestive system.
Some scientists think that the rise of food allergy in children could be related to non-food factors. The so-called hygiene hypothesis suggests that the number of allergies is rising because the children are living in too sterile environment. As a result of decreased exposure to various bacteria and other microorganisms, the immune system overreacts to otherwise harmless substances. The hygiene hypothesis has been also linked to other types of allergies, however, its link to the rising number of kids with food allergy has not been proven.
Another theory that may explain the why more and more children are diagnosed with food allergy is reduced exposure to common food allergens such as peanuts during early childhood. This theory too needs more scientific studies to be able to determine its role in food allergy in children, however, some health providers have started to question the current recommendations that foresee waiting with introduction of common food allergens by the age of 2 years. It also remains unknown whether lack of vitamin D could play a role because allergies tend to be more common in children living further north and being exposed to less sunlight than those living in the south with more sunny days.
In the end, rise of food allergies in children could be also related to increased awareness of the problem. Parents sometimes misinterpret an upset stomach or food intolerance such as lactose intolerance as food allergy. As a result, some parents started eliminating the suspected food allergens from their children’s diet which, however, can lead to nutritional deficiency which is dangerous as well. Parents are therefore highly recommended not to jump to any conclusions and take their child to a doctor if suspecting food allergy.
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