I have a son with food allergies, seasonal allergies, eczema, and asthma, and I’m not happy about it. As we went down the winding road of allergy testing and multiple specialist visits for my two-year-old, I began talking with other parents about it. I soon realized that I was definitely not alone in dealing with my allergy-prone kid.
While that is a comforting thought, it also sucks for all of us parents. On top of that, there are plenty of parents who err in the opposite direction and often lie about their kids having allergies—because they are vegetarian or vegan, picky eaters, or flat-out refuse certain food groups.
Let’s make something clear: Parents who lie about their children’s food allergies are doing a disservice to the rest of us. This is precisely why so many people are skeptical about the allergy epidemic among children today. But research proves otherwise.
A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics tells us that food allergies among children are more common and more severe than ever before:
The survey of nearly 40,000 U.S. parents found that nearly eight percent of children under the age of 18, about six million of them, have a food allergy. Researchers also concluded that nearly 40 percent of those reactions are severe, and nearly one-third have sensitivities to more than one food.
In the recent observation of Food Allergy Awareness Week, more intriguing statistics were brought to light:
15 million people in the United States have food allergies while one in every 13 children is affected. That is roughly 2 kids in every school classroom. Food allergies are not a fad, a choice nor an over-reaction to be taken lightly. Just because kids didn’t routinely have them way back when our parents were kids doesn’t make them any less real or serious today. Food allergies are on the rise more than ever before, in fact there was an 18% increase in food allergy from 1997-2007.
I’ll reiterate what I already said: It’s comforting to know that I am not alone as an allergy parent, but it also sucks that so many kids and families have to deal with this potentially life-threatening issue. I am fortunate in that my two-year-old only has confirmed skin-related allergies to peanut and egg; basically, after extensive allergy testing, we were told that he could avoid those foods to reduce eczema flare-ups. We’ve also temporarily changed his diet to a more “clean eating” approach that has helped clear his skin and manage his asthma, with the help of asthma medication.
But what is really going on here? Why are kids more allergic than ever before, if parents aren’t making it up for their convenience? Many experts point to something called the “hygiene hypothesis.” What this essentially means is that our environments are cleaner than ever before. Young children don’t have the chance to develop their immune systems with stimulation from friendly and unfriendly bacteria.
If you’ve ever seen a mother slather hand sanitizer all over her baby and her belongings, you know what I’m talking about. When kids don’t have the chance to develop their immunity, their immune system overreacts to any allergens they encounter. Some of these reactions may occur when eating certain foods and can be increasingly dangerous.
When you add to this the “Standard American Diet,” you have the perfect storm on your hands. You know it, and I know it: We are eating more crap than ever before. High-sugar, processed foods, along with food additives and pesticides, change the beneficial gut flora found in the digestive tract. This is one more factor that can increase the risk of asthma and decrease immunity.
There are several other issues to consider that may contribute to food allergies, like chemical cleaners, environmental triggers, food avoidance at an early age, and genetics—but the “big two” I mentioned above pack a powerful punch.
Parents of children with food allergies, what are we to do? It’s your best bet to work with your allergist and determine a helpful, safe diet for your child that can be used to rehabilitate immunity and overall health. If your child has life-threatening food allergies, raising awareness is key. Work with friends, family members, and teachers to eliminate any potential triggers your child may encounter.
Many times, food allergy advocacy is met with resistance because of parents who don’t take the issue seriously. But research doesn’t lie—allergies among children are on the rise. Allergy parents, I believe you. I know you aren’t making it up.
(Image: sveta aryev/Shutterstock)