Teens and children are notorious for eating fast food. And while most dieticians and nutritionists know the risks these foods pose to good health, few may be aware of a new study that may link these eating habits with asthma, eczema and hay fever.
The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) recently published in the British Medical Journal's respiratory journal Thorax compiled questionnaires by 319,196 13- and 14-year-old children from 51 countries and by the parents of 181,631 6- and 7-year-old children in 31 countries. Respondents were asked to specify any of three conditions they experienced after eating certain foods during the year.
"We found clear associations between certain foods and severe asthma, hay fever (or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis) and eczema in the largest study of allergies in children (aged 6-7 years) and adolescents (13-14 years) to date," noted Hywel Williams of the Centre for Evidence Based Dermatology, Queen's Medical Centre, University Hospital, Nottingham, UK.
Teens and children who consumed fast food three or more times a week had about a 30-percent increased risk of severe asthma, hay fever and eczema. Yet those who ate fruit at least three times a week experienced some protections against severe asthma.
Age group, affluence and gender had no impact the outcomes. And there were certain caveats for those too eager to establish a strong link between fast food and allergies. Study authors warn that further research is necessary. "The cautionary notes are that this study showed an association, which does not always mean that the link between food and allergies is causal," said Williams. "It could be due to other factors linked to behavior that we have not measured, or it could be due to biases that occur in studies that measure disease and ask about previous food intake."
Williams made the point that teens and children needn’t stop eating fast food entirely. “[Make sure they] eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and maybe less fast food—one or two times per week rather than three or more—if your child has allergies."
Other allergy experts note that there is evidence to suggest a link between diet and one’s immune system. "It's not at all surprising to me that a disease as complex as asthma would be directly affected by diet. We've known for a while that diet can affect immune system function with certain foods being pro or anti-inflammatory," observed Dr. Stephen Teach, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. "Given that asthma is inherently an inflammatory disease, with swelling and inflammation of the small to medium-size airways of the lung, it is not at all surprising that diet should affect those processes in some way."
For nutritionists and dieticians, the message is a simple one: advise your teen and child patients to eat less fast food and more fruits and vegetables.
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