At Ready. Set. Food!, we’re committed to all aspects of food allergy education, so families can make informed decisions about their children’s nutrition and introduce allergens easily and safely. We’re excited to begin our new Food Allergy 101 series, focused on providing food allergy education to families, with this post on finding out your baby’s food allergy risk factors.
With more than 1 in 10 suffering from a food allergy today, it’s important for parents to know the risk factors that increase their baby's chances of developing a food allergy. Food allergies develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors (such as changes in lifestyle and diet). With many things to consider, here’s our guide to help give parents the information and tools they need to understand the latest research on risk factors and food allergy development.
General Population: Everyone is at risk for developing a food allergy with 8-10% suffering from a food allergy today.
Risk Factors that cannot be changed:
Family History:One study suggests that if you have a sibling with a food allergy, your risk of developing one too is 13% -- compared to 8-10% in the general population.
Male Gender in Childhood:Some studies suggest that male children have a 5x higher incidence of peanut allergies than females.
Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis:While the above risk factors do play a role in determining your child’s risk, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is the most important risk factor to consider. That’s because research shows that infants with eczema are at the highest risk for developing food allergies, but food allergy does not cause eczema. Moreover, up to 67% of infants with severe eczema and 25% of infants with mild eczema will develop a food allergy.
Risk Factors that can be changed:
Hygiene:Improved hygiene and therefore, decreased exposure to certain germs, has made it harder to “train” the immune system to be able to tell the difference between good and bad germs. This has caused the immune system to overreact to even harmless substances (like food proteins) and cause allergy in certain people.
Vitamin D:Multiple studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency may result in increased allergies. Some of these studies show that children exposed to less sunlight (born during the winter months or living further from the equator) are more likely to develop food allergy
Timing of Allergen Introduction:Delaying the introduction of allergenic foods into an infant’s diet can increase their risk of food allergies. Multiple studies have shown that introducing allergenic foods like egg and peanut into an infant’s diet around 4 months of age can significantly decrease their risk of developing food allergy.
But All Babies Are At Risk
While the above risk factors are important to consider, babies aren’t born with food allergies -- rather, they develop them over time. So in fact, all babies are at risk for developing a food allergy. In addition, over 50% of children diagnosed with a food allergy do not have a direct family member with it. That’s why according to the new medical guidelines, early allergen introduction is recommended for all babies.
About the author:
Our head allergist, Katie Marks-Cogan, M.D., is board certified in Allergy/Immunology and Internal Medicine, and treats both pediatric and adult patients. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she received her M.D. with honors from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She then completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Northwestern and fellowship in Allergy/Immunology at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP). After finishing training, she moved to Southern California and currently works in private practice. She is a member of the scientific advisory board for Ready. Set. Food! She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, 3 year old son, and 8 month old daughter where she enjoys hiking, building LEGO castles with her son, and cooking with her family.
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