The rise of Food Allergies and First World Problems

Posted 11.15.13 | Christine Graham-Garo

There has been a dramatic rise in food allergies in children over the past 2 decades. In an article I found, it looks to a study of 40,000 families conducted by Dr. Ruchi Gupta from Children’s Memorial Hospital who found that 8% of kids have a food allergy. Another study found that almost 15 million children were allergic to the top 8 allergens. Dr Sicherer from The Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Jaffee Food Allergy Institute conducted a study in 1997 where he called a random number of families. At that time, the study showed 1 in 250 children were allergic to peanuts. When they did the same study in 2008, that number jumped to 1 in 70! What is more shocking is that these increases are found in other countries too.

Is it a rise in awareness or an actual rise in the incidences? The researchers say its some of the former, but mostly the latter.

Why do people develop allergies? Developing allergies are based on genetics and the environment. We know genetics play a role as a study looking at allergies in twins found that identical twins had higher rates of the same peanut allergies than do the fraternal twins. However, for the rate of allergies to increase in just 20 years leads researchers to think the environment plays a role as genes do not change that quickly.

Environmental factors can include if you grow up in the urban city or the farm. Studies show kids who grow up on a farm are less likely to develop allergies.

The hygiene theory has gotten wide acceptance, but is not thought to be the only reason. Another theory is the increase in Vit D deficiencies in children.

An interesting third theory is that babies may be getting too much folate. Although taking folate while pregnant is an important habit to avoid deficiency, this rise in folate amounts may have contributed to the rise of allergies.

The thought is that a number of factors are tied to the rise in food allergies and are mostly the result of increase in wealthy, sophisticated, modern Western society also known as First World Problems. Rises in food allergies are not seen in under developed countries.

For now, research is looking toward desensitation of the allergens. Positive findings have been seen and mothers are now encouraged to expose their children to peanuts and other foods at an early age. This is a sharp change from earlier theories in the past.


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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.