Are food allergies really on the rise?

10/17/2010 12:00 PM

12/03/2010 11:25 AM

Q. I am a kindergarten teacher, and I’ve noticed that more and more children in my class have food allergies. Are food allergies more common than they used to be? If so, why?

The prevalence of food allergies is on the rise. In fact, between 1997 and 2007, the number of children with food allergies increased by 18 percent.

Some people credit this increase to better awareness of food allergy signs and symptoms. Also, food allergy testing is more readily available.

However, there is evidence that the increasing prevalence of food allergies is actual rather than perceived. A study from the Children’s Hospital of Boston showed that pediatric emergency room visits due to food allergies doubled between the years of 2001 and 2006. It is estimated that 4 percent of U.S. children have food allergies.

No one knows why food allergies are on the rise. There are many hypotheses. The most common allergenic foods are milk, eggs, nuts, soy, fish, and wheat. Some people believe that introducing these foods into a child’s diet too early may lead to a food allergy. However, there are also experts who believe that delaying the introduction of these foods could be to blame. Family history also plays a role in food allergies.

Until scientists are able to identify the reason, parents may hear conflicting advice about prevention. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until six months of age, which has been proven in studies to decrease the incidence of food allergies and eczema.

The AAP does not recommend delaying the introduction of any certain food groups once an infant has reached the age of 6 months. If an infant has eczema, asthma, known food allergies or a family history of food allergies, then specific advice regarding the introduction of solids should be obtained from the child’s healthcare provider.

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