(NaturalNews) Food allergies among children in the United States are on the rise, according to a study led by Amy M. Branum of the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It found that almost 4%, or 3 million, children aged below 18 in the United States suffered food allergies in 2007, an increase of 18% from 1997.
The number of children in the US hospitalized each year for food allergies also increased greatly between 1998 and 2006.
About Food Allergies
Allergies are responses by one's immune system to a particular substance, either a food, inhalant, or chemical. With regard to food allergies, the most common types of foods causing the vast majority of reactions include eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat.
Allergic reactions can be mild, for example a slight itch, but can also be as serious as death. The exact mechanisms behind which a person develops an allergy is something which is not very well understood.
Generally, children are more susceptible to food allergies than adults. Most children are said to 'grow out of' their food allergies, although some people may experience a lifelong allergy to certain foods.
Details of Study
The CDC study looked at data collected during the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS is a multi-purpose survey which is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the CDC.
In 2007, about 9,500 children were sampled. In order to make national estimates, each sampled child had to be assigned a weight to give a sense of their proportionate representation of the entire US child population.
The study also used data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey (NHDS) to obtain estimated figures of the number of children discharged each year, whose hospitalization was related to diagnoses of food allergies.
The NHDS collected data from about 270,000 inpatient hospital records, obtained from about 500 hospitals nationwide.
Findings of Study
The study found that almost 4 out of every 100 children under the age of 18 had reported food or digestive allergies in 2007. This translates to an estimated 3 million children.
For children under 5, this figure was significantly higher – about 4.7% had reported food allergies in the 12-month period. There was no significant difference in the rates between males and females, although girls had a slighter higher rate. Hispanic children also had lower reported rates of food allergies.
In general, the numbers are rising, a fact which seems to be consistent between the US and what is reported in other countries. Between 1997 and 2007, the rate of reported food allergies among children below 18 in the US rose 18%. Rates for those below 5 and above 5 both increased during the said period.
The study also found that children with food allergies were a lot more likely to suffer from asthma (29.4%, compared with 12.4% for children without food allergies), eczema or skin allergy (27.2% versus 8.1%) as well as respiratory allergies (31.5% versus 8.7%). These confirmed the findings of previous research. The first of these three findings is the most significant, as children with both food allergy and asthma may be more likely to get anaphylactic reactions to foods and have a higher risk of death.
In terms of the absolute number of children below 18 who were hospitalized each year with diagnoses related to food allergies, there has been a sharp increase, too. From 2004 to 2006, the average annual number of discharges related to food allergies for this group was 9,537. This is marked higher than the corresponding figures of 4,135 from 2001 to 2003, and 2,615 from 1998 to 2000.
Branum tells us that the 18% increase which the study arrived at is significant enough to be more than just a statistical blip.
However, the study is not without its limitations. For example, the higher numbers could be because parents these days have better awareness and are more likely to send their children to doctors and specialists for possible allergic reactions.
Also, the NHIS just asked parents if their children had suffered any food allergy in the past 12 months – it did not ask if there was a formal diagnosis by a doctor, nor were medical records checked. Some parents, for example, may not be aware of the difference between food allergies, which are triggered by one's immune system, and digestive issues, such as lactose intolerance. This fact could skew the findings of the study.
Even then, we should note that the findings of the CDC study were quite consistent with previous national estimates which had been obtained by extrapolating data from smaller and more intensive studies. So, there may be some credibility in the numbers, after all.
What we can do to reduce allergies
Avoidance of the foods which are commonly associated with allergies, mentioned above, is one possible way to prevent the problem.
In addition, the use of probiotics may help, as they aid in improving digestion by helping the body to control the absorption of food allergens as well as by changing the body's immune response to foods.
For certain types of allergies, nutritional substances such as flavonoids, quercetin and vitamin C may also be helpful, as they have been shown in animal, test tube and other preliminary studies to have antihistamine properties. However, research demonstrating that these substances can help with allergic reactions in humans is still lacking.
Further, certain herbs, like cacao and stinging nettle, as well as raw honey, can help one cope with some symptoms of allergies.
Broadly speaking, the root causes of allergic reactions are a state of over-toxicity in the body, or poor health and a weak immune system in general. When the body is overloaded with toxins, it cannot cope as well as it should with certain foods.
The best long-term solution to any health problem is to get to the root of the issue. A solid detoxification program to clean up the body thus goes a long way in eradicating allergy conditions.
Branum AM, Lukacs SL. Food allergy among U.S. children: Trends in prevalence and hospitalizations. NCHS data brief, no 10. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008.