The link between obesity and food allergies

May 28, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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inhalerOverweight children and adolescents are more likely to suffer from food allergies. This is according to a study by American researchers. Here are some of the figures to think about (Source: NY Times):

  • Overweight children are 50% more likely to be allergic to milk.
  • They are also 26% more likely to be allergic to at least one type of food.

For children as well as for parents, food allergies are a problem that can range from being a mild annoyance (e.g. skin rash) to life-threatening (food related anaphylaxis). According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, 4% of the American population (more than 12 million people) has some form of food allergy. Of these, 3 million are children.

90% of food allergies are due to the following food stuffs:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans)
  • wheat
  • soy
  • fish
  • shellfish.

The current study followed up 4,111 children and teenagers aged 2 to 19 years old and monitored the levels of total and allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibodies to a wide spectrum of airborne (indoor and outdoor) and food allergens as well as the body weight of the participants. The researchers found that obese or overweight children have higher IgE levels compared to children with normal weight.

According to researcher Dr. Stephanie London, “The signal for allergies seemed to be coming mostly from food allergies. The rate of having a food allergy was 59 percent higher for obese children.”

The study results do not necessarily prove that excess weight can cause food allergies in children. However, the fact remains that there is a strong association between obesity and allergies. This is an association that cannot be simply ignored but should be investigated further.

In recent years, the problem of obesity, especially among children has been on the rise. The same is true with the problem of food allergies.

According to lead author Dr. Cynthia Visness

“Given that the prevalence of both obesity and allergic disease has increased among children over the last several decades, it is important to understand and, if possible, prevent these epidemics.”

The current study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The results have been published in the May issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Photo credit: Stock.xchng

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