Children living in urban centers have a much higher prevalence of food allergies than those living in rural areas, according to a new study, whichis the first to map children's food allergies by geographicallocation in the United States. In particular, kids in big citiesare more than twice as likely to have peanut and shellfishallergies compared to rural communities. The study will be published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics. "We have found for the first time that higher population densitycorresponds with a greater likelihood of food allergies inchildren," said lead author Ruchi Gupta, M.D., an assistantprofessor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg Schoolof Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. |
Lurie Children'sHospital of Chicago (formerly Children's Memorial). "This showsthat 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 withprevention efforts." Gupta, also a researcher at the Institute for Healthcare Studies atthe Feinberg School, said some of her future research will focus ontrying to identify the environmental causes. The study included 38,465 children, 18 years and under, whocomprised a representative sample of U.S.
households. Their foodallergies were mapped by ZIP code. Here are the key findings of thestudy: In urban centers, 9.8 percent of children have food allergies,compared to 6.2 percent in rural communities, almost a 3.5 percentdifference. Peanut allergies are twice as prevalent in urban centers as inrural communities, with 2.8 percent of children having the allergyin urban centers compared to 1.3 percent in rural communities.Shellfish allergies are more than double the prevalence in urbanversus rural areas; 2.4 percent of children have shellfishallergies in urban centers compared to 0.8 percent in ruralcommunities. Food allergies are equally severe regardless of where a childlives, the study found.
Nearly 40 percent of food-allergic childrenin the study had already experienced a severe, life-threateningreaction to food. The states with the highest overall prevalence of food allergiesare Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware,Maryland and the District of Columbia. The study controlled for household income, race, ethnicity, genderand age. It tracked food allergy prevalence in urban centers,metropolitan cities, urban outskirts, suburban areas, small townsand rural areas.
Food allergy is a serious and growing health problem. An estimated5.9 million children under age 18, or one out of every 13 children,now have a potentially life-threatening food allergy, according to2011 research by Gupta. A severe allergic reaction that can lead todeath includes a drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing andswelling of the throat. A food-allergic reaction sends an Americanto the emergency room every three minutes, according to a March2011 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Past research has shown an increased prevalence of asthma, eczema , allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis in urban areas versus rural ones.
One hypothesis is that exposureearly in life to certain bacteria associated with rural living mayprotect against hereditary hypersensitivity to certain allergens.Or, many pollutants encountered in urban areas may trigger thedevelopment of these allergies. The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), a nonprofit founded in 1998 byconcerned parents and grandparents and the largest private funderof food allergy research in the world, provided financial supportfor this study. "Dr. Gupta's ongoing research on food allergy prevalence amongchildren in the U.S. is providing critical information to help usaddress the growing public health issue of food allergies," saidMary Jane Marchisotto, executive director of the Food AllergyInitiative.
"We are committed to finding a cure for food allergiesand this study provides additional insight about why certain peoplehave food allergies and others do not." Additional References Citations.
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