WASHINGTON – Children living in urban centers have a much higher prevalence of food allergies than those living in rural areas, according to a new study to be published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics. In particular, kids in big cities are more than twice as likely to have peanut and shellfish allergies compared to rural communities.
The study included 38,465 children, 18 years and under, who comprised a representative sample of U.S. households. Their food allergies were mapped by ZIP code.
The findings include: In urban centers, 9.8 percent of children have food allergies, compared to 6.2 percent in rural communities, almost a 3.5-percent difference; Peanut allergies are twice as prevalent in urban centers as in rural communities, with 2.8 percent of children having the allergy in urban centers compared to 1.3 percent in rural communities; Shellfish allergies are more than double the prevalence in urban versus rural areas; 2.4 percent of children have shellfish allergies in urban centers compared to 0.8 percent in rural communities.
Food allergies are equally severe regardless of where a child lives, the study found. Nearly 40 percent of food-allergic children in the study had already experienced a severe, life- threatening reaction to food.
The states with the highest overall prevalence of food allergies are Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The study controlled for household income, race, ethnicity, gender and age. It tracked food allergy prevalence in urban centers, metropolitan cities, urban outskirts, suburban areas, small towns and rural areas.
“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, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This shows that environment has an impact on developing food allergies.”
Food allergy is a serious and growing health problem. An estimated 5.9 million U.S. children under age 18, or one out of every 13 children, now have a potentially life-threatening food allergy, according to 2011 research by Gupta. A severe allergic reaction that can lead to death includes a drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing and swelling of the throat. A food-allergic reaction sends an American to the emergency room every three minutes, according to a March 2011 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Xinhua)