Children raised in cities are more likely to have food allergies than those raised in rural areas according to a recent study from Clinical Pediatrics. An estimated 5.9 million children under age 18 — one out of every 13 children — now have a potentially life-threatening food allergy, of the sort that causes a severe allergic reaction that could lead to death, with a drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing and swelling of the throat. Researchers examined data for 38,465 children, 18 years and under, who comprised a representative sample of U.S. households.
A 2011 study in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that, every three minutes, an American ends up in the emergency room from a food-allergic reactio
The Clinical Pediatrics study is the first to look at children’s food allergies based on geographic location. 9.8 percent of children living in urban areas were found to have food allergies vs. 6.2 percent of children in rural areas. Wherever children live, those that have food allergies have experienced a severe, life-threatening reaction to food. Certain states — Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia — had the highest rates of food allergies.
Children in urban areas were also more likely than those in rural areas (2.8 percent vs. 1.3 percent) to have peanut allergies, and to have shellfish allergies (2.4 percent vs. 0.8 percent).
Children living in cities have also been found to have higher rates of related conditions such as asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, says lead author Ruchi Gupta, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Gupta noted that some of her future research will focus on investigating possible environmental causes for the higher rate in food allergies among children in the city.
Gupta’s research was funded by the The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), a nonprofit that concerned parents and grandparents founded in 1998.
Why Are Kids in Urban Areas More Likely to Have Food Allergies?
As for why children in urban areas have higher rates of food allergies, Science Daily notes these hypotheses:
One hypothesis is that exposure early in life to certain bacteria associated with rural living may protect against hereditary hypersensitivity to certain allergens. Or, many pollutants encountered in urban areas may trigger the development of these allergies.
Indeed, other research in Science magazine has given weight to the phenomenon of people who grow up on farms being less likely to have immune system-related illnesses than people who grow up in cities and to the “hygiene hypothesis,” according to which children exposed in early life to more microbes — from other children, from animals — end up with immune systems that are better able to tolerate the irritants that cause asthma and related conditions including food allergies. Other studies have found that auto-immune diseases are more common in people in who move from developing regions to more developed countries, to live no longer in rural areas but cities.
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