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The unexplainable rise
How ≠ó if at all ó can parents reduce their childís risk of getting a food allergy?


April 2016

Itís estimated that one in every 13 children in the United States has a food allergy ó the most common being milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Food allergies each year alone result in more than 300,000 children being rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

In fact, the number of children with food allergies is on the rise. According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children in the U.S. increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

"I donít think anyone really knows why," says Dr. Margaret Hennessy, pediatrician with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Racine.

For years, Hennessy has been treating both children and adults who suffer from allergies and believes a possible contributing factor for this increase in child rates is something referred to as the "hygiene hypothesis."

"The concept here is that the more bugs you come in contact with when youíre young, the less likely you are to have allergies," says Hennessy.

For example, kids who live on farms are known to have lower risks of allergies, according to Hennessy. She also believes that kids with less infectious exposure to certain germs and the use of hand sanitizer and other hand cleansers could result in an increased risk of allergies.

Family history also plays a big role in food allergies for children. The likelihood of suffering from a food allergy is greater in children whose parents suffer from any type of allergic disease, such as asthma, eczema, food allergies or environmental allergies, such as hay fever.

While genetics canít be controlled, there are things that parents can do to try to reduce the risk in their children.

"We do recommend as a way to decrease the risk of food allergies that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months before being started on solid food," says Hennessy.

A study in Japan also found that moms who had an increased intake of dairy during pregnancy found fewer food allergy problems in their children, according to Hennessy. She concludes that researchers think vitamin D may be effective in helping to reduce allergy risks.

"The worst part of all this is we still donít know enough about why. I think thatís the big thing. Even when you look at these things that we think of as protective, we canít really prove cause and effect. We can only see it as associations," says Hennessy. M



This story ran in the April 2016 issue of: