The Growing Food Allergy Epidemic and What Parents Can Do To Prevent Food Allergies
Why is the childhood food allergy epidemic on the rise, what are its serious consequences, and what can you do to help lessen its impact? Find out here.
- Food allergies are on the rise, with more than 1 in 10 affected
- Reactions can be severe, including life-threatening anaphylaxis
- Food allergic children face unexpected social costs, including social exclusion and bullying
- Research shows that 70-80% of childhood food allergies can be prevented
Food Allergies Are Serious and Everyone is at Risk
Food allergy reactions can range from mild (hives, abdominal pain, etc) to severe, including anaphylaxis with low blood pressure and loss of consciousness. In fact, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room every three minutes and is known to be the most frequent single cause of emergency room visits for anaphylaxis. Milk, egg, and peanut represent the vast majority -- over 80% -- of childhood food allergens. What has also emerged as a troubling trend is that over 50% of children with food allergies have no family history.
Over 50% of children with food allergies have no family history.
The Impact on A Child’s Quality of Life
“Although there are many steps parents can take to help manage their child’s food allergy, the unfortunate truth about a child living with food allergies is that their quality of life almost always suffers,” says Board Certified Allergist Katie Marks-Cogan, M.D., FACAAI. “I see this firsthand with my pediatric patients and I always caution their parents about the unforeseen social costs that their child may face.” The impact on a child’s quality of life may include:
Lost Parental Productivity- Parents of food allergic children can face costs of up to $4200 every year per child according to a 2013 study, reducing their labor productivity.
Social Exclusion & Activity Avoidance- Children with food allergies, particularly milk and egg, can find many social events (e.g. birthday parties) difficult and isolating.
Bullying- About 1 in 3 children with food allergies has been bullied at least once, according to a 2014 study. With roughly a third of those children reported to be bullied at least twice a month.
About 1 in 3 children with food allergies has been bullied at least once.
Why Are Food Allergies Increasing?
There are many theories to consider when evaluating the rise in food allergies, especially in Western countries like the US.
Food Allergen Avoidance- The avoidance of, or decreased exposure to, food allergens during infancy is now considered a risk factor for food allergies. In the LEAP study, which enrolled infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy, the participants who avoided peanuts were more likely to develop peanut allergies versus those who sustained peanut consumption for several months.
Vitamin D Insufficiency- Some studies suggest that certain infants with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have egg or peanut allergy compared to infants with normal vitamin D levels.
The Hygiene Hypothesis- The lack of microbial exposure in childhood can skew the immune response towards the development of allergy, with many studies supporting this theory. Simply put, exposure to germs and allergens can strengthen a child’s immune system and in turn, can help fight off the development of illnesses and food allergies.
Dual Allergen Exposure Hypothesis- A theory that has recently been gaining acceptance in the medical community is that exposure to food allergens through the skin can promote an allergy, while early oral consumption can promote tolerance, as suggested in this 2012 study.
A Recent Breakthrough in Food Allergy Prevention
Thankfully, recent landmark studies (LEAP, EAT, PETIT) have proven that exposing babies to food allergens early and often can significantly reduce their risk. In addition, new medical guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) have been published supporting early allergen introduction.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.