Kids In Cities Have More Food Allergies
June 8, 2012

Kids In Cities Have More Food Allergies

Connie K. Ho for

Allergic to this. Allergic to that. Food allergy has become a serious and increasingly important health issue. About 5.9 million children under 18 report a dangerous food allergy, and allergic reactions can led to drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing, and throat swelling. A new study found that children who reside in urban areas tend to have a higher number of food allergies than those who live in rural areas. Specifically, children in big cities are more than twice as likely to have allergies to foods like peanut and shellfish than those children who live in rural communities.

The results, published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics, involved a representative of a sample of families in the U.S. 38,465 children under the age of 18 participated. The participants´ food allergies were marked by zip code. The project is revolutionary in its aim to map children´s food allergies by geographic location.

"We have found for the first time that higher population density corresponds with a greater likelihood of food allergies in children," explained lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, in a prepared statement. "This shows that environment has an impact on developing food allergies. Similar trends have been seen for related conditions like asthma. The big question is — what in the environment is triggering them? A better understanding of environmental factors will help us with prevention efforts."

The study found a number of statistics. For example, in metropolises, 9.8 percent of children display food allergies while only six percent of children in rural communities do. As well, peanut allergies appear to be twice as seen in urban areas than rural areas (2.8 percent of children were allergic to peanut butter, as compared to 1.3 percent of children in rural communities who were allergic to peanut butter).  The allergies to shellfish doubled; 2.4 percent of children have the allergy as opposed to 1.3 percent of the children who do not. Furthermore, states that had the highest outcome of children with food allergies included Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, and the District of Columbia.

Furthermore, past studies have shown that there has been a rise in the number of cases based on allergic rhinitis, asthma, conjunctivitis, and eczema. Researchers also considered factors like age, ethnicity, gender, income, and race. They looked at the progress of the participants by tracking food allergy numbers in urban centers, suburbs, small towns, cites, and rural areas. Gupta hopes to build off of this research with an aim for environmental causes.

"Dr. Gupta's ongoing research on food allergy prevalence among children in the U.S. is providing critical information to help us address the growing public health issue of food allergies," noted Mary Jane Marchisotto, executive director of the Food Allergy Initiative, in the statement. "We are committed to finding a cure for food allergies and this study provides additional insight about why certain people have food allergies and others do not."