Children living in urban centers have a much higher prevalence of food allergies than those living in rural areas. In particular, kids in big cities are more than twice as likely to have peanut and shellfish allergies compared to rural communities.
These were the results of the first study to map children’s food allergies by geographical location in the United States. Ruchi Gupta, an assistant professor of pediatrics and lead author, says the study shows that environment is related to a child developing food allergies.
“Similar trends have been seen for related conditions like asthma. The big question is – what in the environment is triggering them?” says Assistant Professor Gupta.
- In urban centers, 9.8 percent of children have food allergies, compared to 6.2 percent in rural communities, almost a 3.5 percent difference.
- Peanut allergies are twice as prevalent in urban centers as in rural communities, with 2.8 percent of children having the allergy in urban centers compared with 1.3 percent in rural communities.
- Shellfish allergies are more than double the prevalence in urban versus rural areas; 2.4 percent of children have shellfish allergies in urban centers compared to 0.8 percent in rural communities.
- Food allergies are equally severe regardless of where a child lives, the study found. Nearly 40 percent of food-allergic children in the study had already experienced a severe, life-threatening reaction to food.
A growing health problem
Food allergy is a serious and growing health problem. In Australia, a study by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) showed that 10 per cent of one-year-olds have inflammatory responses to various foods, making Australia “the world’s food allergy capital“.
Lead researcher on the MCRI study, gastroenterologist and allergy specialist Katie Allen said the rise of allergies in Australia was similar to that of the asthma epidemic in the 1990s, and equally as mysterious.
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“If you went out into the community and asked adults how many had food allergies when they were kids, almost none did,” Associate Professor Allen said.
“But if you walk into a classroom now, almost every class has at least one child with a food allergy,” she said.
What role does the environment play?
Professor Allen and her colleagues agree that the increase in food allergies in Australia may be related to the ‘modern lifestyle’ and that the issue requires further investigation.
As for why food allergies are more prevalent amongst city kids, Assistant Professor Gupta says some of her future research will focus on trying to identify the environmental causes.
“A better understanding of environmental factors will help us with prevention efforts,” she says.
The study on food allergies by geographical location will be published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics.
For more information on Food Allergy in Australia, visit www.allergyfacts.org.au