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Childhood Food Allergies Increasing

The federal government is confirming what many doctors, researchers and parents have long thought: More kids are reporting food allergies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a new study today that found that reported food allergies increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007 in the United States.

In 2007, about 3 million U.S. children and teenagers under the age of 18, or nearly 4 percent of that age group, reported a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months, up from a little more than 2.3 million or 3.3 percent in 1997, the CDC said.

Between 2004 and 2006, 9,537 children were hospitalized for food allergies per year, up from 2,615 between 1998 and 2000.

Eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, the agency said. Symptoms can include a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, hives and even, in severe cases, death.

Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have other related conditions, such as asthma and other allergies, the agency said. Boys and girls are about equally likely to have food allergies.

Previous smaller studies in the United States and elsewhere have suggested that food allergies are increasing, but the new numbers come from the first national estimate. They were drawn from the National Health Interview Survey, a door-to-door survey of households of about 9,500 children, and the National Hospital Discharge Survey, which samples about 270,00 hospital records at bout 500 hospitals.

Because the cases were reported by parents, it remains unclear whether it's a true increase or parents are more aware of allergies and so reporting them more.

If it is really increasing, the cause remains unclear, although there are many theories. One, called the "hygiene theory" blames our obsession with cleanliness, which could be resulting in kids' immune systems failing to learn how to respond to everyday exposures. For more about that see a story that I wrote back in March.

By Rob Stein  |  October 22, 2008; 1:32 PM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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Comments

Come on. Food allergies are just another "disease du jour", like Attention Deficit Disorder. Once people hear about it, everyone's got it.

Posted by: moosejerky | October 25, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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