A new study has found a possible link between moderate to high junk food consumption and an increased risk among children of developing asthma, eczema and certain childhood allergies.
The study, published in the journal Thorax, suggests that children eating fast food three or more times a week could be linked with developing severe asthma, eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis.
However, and perhaps not surprising, those participants who ate fruit three or more times a week appeared less likely to develop those conditions.
The research was conducted by scientists from New Zealand, Spain, Australia, Germany and the UK who, as part of a wider study involving nearly 2 million children from more than 100 countries, are attempting to delve into the causes of asthma, eczema and childhood allergy symptoms. This particular research involved a smaller but still significant sample from that group of more than 319,000 teens aged 13-14 years from across 51 countries, and more than 181,000 six to seven year-olds from across 31 countries.
The researchers wanted to investigate the types of food the kids and teenagers are eating and whether a link could be determined between eating habits and risk factors.
The children and their parents were sent questionnaires on their eating habits over the past year, and were asked to list the kinds of food they had eaten and how often. They were also asked whether they suffered from specific asthma and allergy symptoms, and if so, how severe they were and whether they impeded day to day living.
The data revealed something quite startling. Foods we’d classify as “junk” or “fast” food, such as burgers, was the only food type that was associated with asthma and allergies across every age range and country. In fact, teens who ate three or more servings of fast food were 39% more likely to suffer from severe asthma, while those in the six to seven range saw a risk increase of 27%.
As noted above, the researchers also found a 15% association reduction in asthma rates in children who ate three or more servings of fruit a day.
The research controlled for lifestyle factors such as affluence to discount the possibility of many other environmental effects and so this consistency, researchers said, leads them to believe it is worth researching whether there is a causal link between moderate to high junk food consumption and these diseases — however, the research has not established that link yet.
If a causal link could be established, the implications in terms of health advice, researchers said, could be wide ranging because this is the first study to suggest in such broad terms a link between junk food and asthma. However, the study did not differentiate between the types of junk food being consumed and so pinpointing precisely which foods might carry a greater risk will be for future studies to ascertain.
The researchers also noted that the food itself might not be to blame, but rather the methods used to cook and process the food. For instance, a “fast” burger’s nutritional content can be quite different from a grilled, home-made burger. Indeed, the paper speculates the link may be “related to higher saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, sodium, carbohydrates and sugar levels of fast food and possibly preservatives.”
The take-away message from this study is that the results are provocative but, again, no causal link has been established. However, this does add to research, such as this 2010 study, that has already suggested a diet high in vegetables, fruits and good fats appears to be linked to a reduction in child asthma symptoms.
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