City children far more likely to have food allergies than those living in the country

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UPDATED:

10:12 GMT, 8 June 2012

Hidden danger: Youngsters from the city are more than twice as likely to be allergic to peanuts (posed by model)

Hidden danger: Youngsters from the city are more than twice as likely to be allergic to peanuts (posed by model)

Children living in built-up cities are much more likely to have food allergies than those living in the country, according to a new study.

Youngsters who grow up in busy urban areas are more than twice as likely to have a peanut or shellfish intolerance than their rural counterparts, a US study has revealed.

The allergies could be triggered by exposure to pollutants at a young age, experts believe.

Conversely, those living in the country could develop immunities from being exposed to bacteria prevalent in nature.

Almost ten per cent of those born in densely populated areas have a food allergy, in comparison to just six per cent of those born in areas with a low population.

'We have found for the first time that
higher population density corresponds with a greater likelihood of food
allergies in children,' said lead author Ruchi Gupta, assistant
professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of
Medicine.

'This shows that environment has an
impact on developing food allergies.

'Similar trends have been seen for
related conditions like asthma. The big question is – what in the
environment is triggering them A better understanding of environmental
factors will help us with prevention efforts.'

Country life: Children from rural areas may be more resistant because of exposure to fewer pollutants and to certain bacteria (posed by model)

Country life: Children from rural areas may be more resistant because of exposure to fewer pollutants and to certain bacteria (posed by model)

The study included 38,465 children aged 18 and under from a range of backgrounds, whose food allergies were mapped by ZIP code.

A PROBLEM THAT'S NOT
TO BE SNIFFED AT

Food allergies are a serious and growing problem. The most common food allergies in children are:

Milk
Eggs
Peanuts
Tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds or brazil nuts)
Fish
Shellfish

The most common in adults are:

Fruit (e.g. apples, pears, peaches or kiwi fruit)Vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots or celery)ShellfishTree nutsPeanutsFish

Nearly 40 per cent of
food-allergic children in the study had already experienced a severe,
life-threatening reaction to food. Their reactions were equally severe
regardless of where they lived, the study found.

Just 1.3 per cent of children from rural communities were allergic to peanuts, while 2.8 per cent had the allergy in urban areas.

Less than one per cent of children from the country had shellfish allergies, while 2.4 per cent from cities were allergic.

Past research has shown an increased
prevalence of asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis in
urban areas versus rural ones.

'Dr Gupta’s ongoing research on food
allergy prevalence is providing critical
information to help us address the growing public health issue of food
allergies,' said Mary Jane Marchisotto, executive director of the Food
Allergy Initiative, which helped fund the study.

'We are committed to finding a cure for food
allergies and this study provides additional insight about why certain
people have food allergies and others do not.'

Food allergy rates have risen sharply in the last 20 years. Symptoms include itching, a red skin rash, swelling of the face, and in the most serious cases, an anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

It
is estimated that around one child in every 14 children under the age
of three has one or more food allergies, according to NHS figures.

They
are caused when the immune system mistakenly treats proteins found in
food as a threat to the body, when in fact they should be harmless.

An estimated four out of five children with peanut allergies remain allergic to peanuts for the rest of their life.