by Marion Nestle
Oct 23 2008

Food allergies more common, says CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a new report out on food allergies.  As everyone suspects, these have become more common in the last 10 years, especially among kids with asthma.  But the increase is really quite small and much smaller than I suspected.  The one big change is in the rate of hospitalizations; these have more than doubled.  Why? What’s really depressing is that nobody really knows.  I have argued for years that we need more research on food allergies.  With a food supply as complicated as ours, having one is no joke.

  • Doctors (and hospitals) make more money if a kid is hospitalized; what exactly discourages them from doing this? They play on the parent’s fears and voila! Ka-Ching!
    – Jaded in the Land of Greed

  • I don’t necessarily agree with Jack. Here in Canada, hospitalizing a patient for food allergies affects the taxpayers – hospitals do whatever they can to send patients home asap.

    I think allergies are getting worse. Why? Oversaturation of our systems. We’re exposed to so much pollution and so many chemicals every day, from cosmetics and perfume to cleaning products and smog. My own food allergies were accompanied by multiple chemical sensitivity.

    The worst thing about food allergies is that there is no treatment. More research would definitely be a step in the right direction.

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  • Renata

    Last year, in July, there was a WSJ article that stated “The National Institutes of Health has called food allergies an emerging public health problem in the U.S. due to a rising incidence of serious allergic reactions to food products. ”
    I tried to find any statement actually coming from the NIH about this and couldn’t find anything.

  • Marc Brazeau

    Three thoughts, tangentially related.

    Today’s yuppiefied overly protective parents are more vigilant and are reporting a greater percent of actual cases.

    Today’s yuppiefied overly protective parents are overrreacting to every media report of a potential allergy.

    People today have food allergies today the way that Parisians had tuberculosis in the 19th century as a proof of their artist temperment. All of my last girlfriend’s friends and her dog had food sensitivities that were accompanied by the approving observation, “She’s very sensitive.” The sensitivity was a given. The variable was the object of the sensitivity.

    Many people today are convinced they have lactose intolerance and can’t eat cheese. Cheese doesn’t have lactose. They may have a dairy sensitivity but they aren’t lactose intolerant.

    The fact that this study is about kids gives me pause, but I wonder about the effects of over nervous parents.

    On the other hand I think a lot of the new allergies are driven by our toxic food environment. Too much processed food is causing new food allergies. (my guess. no data.)

  • tyrroneus

    Marc, your comment is probably the most insightful post I’ve read in a long time. I agree with your assessment 100%.

  • Catherine

    Response to speaking engagement April 18, 2009
    * Catherine
    * April 19, 2009
    * 9:29 am

    Dr. Nestle-
    I heard you speak last night at the Richmond Forum and feel compelled to comment about a remark that you made during the question and answer session.
    You were not sure why there are so many children allergic to food, such as peanuts, and you mentioned crossover contamination between soy and peanuts. In my previous job as prevention specialist for the state of Virginia, I researched maternal and child health issues that had permanent impact on the health of children. I came to wonder if food allergies to peanuts and other food products is due to the too early exposure of infants to these complex proteins. Many babies are given soy formula at very early age in an effort to thwart colic- type responses to other baby formulas. Pediatricians advise against feeding infants eggs due to the possible risk of them forming an allergy to eggs. Egg whites are, or were used in the production of some childhood vaccines and doctors wanted to insure that all children could tolerate vaccines. There is a concern that if the child became allergic to eggs, they could not be vaccinated. Pediatricians also advise against feeding babies under a year old cow’s milk. My niece was fed soy formula and developed a severe allergy to tree nuts and I’ve always wondered if there is a connection.
    It’s my understanding that mother’s milk is easy for a newborn’s digestive system to handle. I’m assuming that this is because it is a very simple form of protein, fat etc. Could exposure to complex protein structures, such as soy & eggs at an early age, before a person has physically developed enough to digest them properly, cause food allergies later in life?
    What about early exposure to iodine in medicines or vaccines? Could this be why so many people are allergic to shellfish?
    Anyway, these are my thoughts. If you have a grad student who would like to collaborate on a grant proposal to survey the parents of children with food allergies, count me in! Inquiring minds want to know.
    My family and I enjoyed your presentation very much. I hope that you enjoyed your visit to Richmond.
    Catherine M. Chafin, MS