October 22, 2008

CDC: Food Allergies On The Rise Among Children

Food allergies appear to be on the rise among children in the U.S., according to the first federal study to address the issue.

Experts found about 3 million U.S. children have a food or digestive allergy. This was an 18 percent increase over the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That translates to about 1 in 26 children last year "“ up from 1 in 29 kids in 1997.

Experts are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the significant increase at this time, but one factor is sure to be a double in peanut allergies.
Additionally children seem to be taking longer to outgrow milk and egg allergies than they did in decades past.

The CDC study did not give a breakdown of which foods were to blame for the allergies.

"A couple of decades ago, it was not uncommon to have kids sick all the time and we just said 'They have a weak stomach' or 'They're sickly,'" said Anne Munoz-Furlong, chief executive of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a Virginia-based advocacy organization.

Parents today are quicker to take their kids to specialists to check out the possibility of food allergies, said Munoz-Furlong, who founded the nonprofit in 1991.

The CDC results came from an in-person, door-to-door survey in 2007 of the households of 9,500 U.S. children under age 18.

Four percent of those surveyed said a child in the house had some kind of food allergy in the previous 12 months.

Some parents may not know the difference between immune system-based food allergies and digestive disorders like lactose intolerance, so it's possible the study's findings are a bit off, said Amy Branum of the CDC, the study's lead author.

However, the study's results mirror older national estimates that were extrapolated from smaller, more intensive studies, said Dr. Hugh Sampson, a food allergy researcher at the Mount Sinai School of medicine.

"This tells us those earlier extrapolations were fairly close," Sampson said.

Eight types of food account for 90 percent of these food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics found.

What's more, children with a food allergy are two to four times more likely than other children to have asthma and other allergies, as well. The report found that in 2007, 29 percent of children with a food allergy also had asthma, compared to 12 percent of children without food allergies.

Also, Hispanic children had lower rates of food allergies than white or black children - the first such racial/ethnic breakdown in a national study.

The reason for that last finding may not be genetics, said Munoz-Furlong. She is Hispanic and said people in her own family have been unwilling to consider food allergies as the reason for children's illnesses. "It's a question of awareness," she said.


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