1 in every 13 children in the United States develops a dangerous allergic reaction to food according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Allergies seem to be more prevalent among children in recent years, but the flip side is that there’s more research about it now than there ever was. So why is it that the more we know, the more common allergies become? I’m here to try and distinguish this difference and see if there is anything we can do about it in the future. The Centers for Diease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a study in 2013 that showed an increase in allergies among children by 50% from 1997-2011. Fifty Percent! That’s astonishing to me. There are a number of reasons why this could be. Among them include genetics, a difference in the foods that we are eating now compared to what we ate 20 years ago, and the increase in hygiene products that we use to keep our kids away from “all the yucky germs”. Let’s dig a little deeper into these theories and see what we find.
Genetics play a significant role in the way we adapt, react, and grow into the healthy human beings that we are. Our parents probably play one of the biggest roles, in that, if either of them is allergic to something, we are much more likely to develop that allergy as well. In fact, children’s chance of developing an allergy doubles if one of their parents is already allergic. This isn’t an end-all-be-all when it comes to your risk for an allergy, but it can be an indicator. In the same respect, The National Health Interview Survey from 2009-2011 showed that children in households with higher incomes had a higher incidence of allergies than those in lower income households. The reason isn’t totally defined, but it could be that households of higher incomes aren’t exposed to as much bacteria in their environment as children in low-income households. Our surroundings essentially predict how susceptible we may be to allergies.
Environment affects a lot of aspects of our lives but most importantly, our health. It molds us into the people that we become without us even realizing it. From the day we are born, we’re exposed to certain environmental factors that can determine our well-being. Hundreds of years ago, kids were raised to work on farms or in factories, exposed to a lot of bacteria and various microorganisms. Due to exposure early in life, your body builds up immunity to these agents. Now, kids are born in a sterile environment and are protected from things like germs, animal dander, and certain foods with the help of education, Lysol wipes, and vaccinations. Although these things are wonderful and keep us in a more sterile environment, our bodies are no longer manufactured to build up as strong as an immune system.
Speaking of immune system, food is the biggest culprit in the allergy world; milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish are the most prevalent. This is nothing new, but they continue to be repeating offenders. Allergy UK explains that the foods that we used to eat 10 or even 20 years ago are much different from the foods that we are eating now. With more technology comes more processing, and this includes our food. People now think they can drink a cup of juice and still get the same nutrients as they would if they ate an apple. This leads to more processed foods being consumed due to their lower price and ease of convenience compared to fresh produce. We live in a world of fast-paced everything and it overflows into the food choices we make. It’s obvious that fresh produce comes from a farm or garden. Going back to the point of being raised on a farm, if we ate more fruits and vegetables in our lifetime, would we then build up a better tolerance to allergenic foods? The answer is unknown, but I’m a believer in this theory!
There are a number of different factors that play a role into our increasing allergenic world. It's like knowing more about them creates a more susceptible environment to attaining them. Allergies continue to grow and research will continue to be conducted. Our environment, diets, and DNA seems to be the the most common contributors. In conclusion to all the facts stated; in my opinion, allergies aren't necessarily something we can totally control. I think we need to relax a bit on restricting our youth to exposure of high-allergenic foods and bacteria, and offer a healthier diet. It comes down to providing fresh produce for your family, keeping clean but not "too clean", and watching what our kids are eating without being too restrictive. We don't want our kids to live in bubbles for the rest of their lives, right?! This is simply my opinion based on the facts, feel free to let me know how YOU feel about this matter.