- How can it be that half of our children have developed allergies?
- The shocking discovery – food and allergy links
- Discover why our kids are heading for disaster
At school I was aware of two kids who had asthma (one of whom also suffered from hay fever) and one lad who frightened us all by collapsing during a game of rugby, needing a boiled sweet to revive him. Turned out he had diabetes.
Plus there was the surprising incident where one lad had his lips and tongue swell up after eating an orange.
That was the sum total of allergies and strange afflictions for a school of 70 children.
We were all born and brought up in the hills and vales, ran amok in the fields and orchards, plus we ate and drank everything that our mums put in front of us.
Now I’m not trying to create a fantasised version of my upbringing, but the reality was that we were exposed to a whole host of natural and chemical factors, yet they didn’t seem to affect us.
I can honestly say that none of my friends or relatives were bothered by allergic reactions to peanuts, bread or fish.
By way of in depth scientific research I asked my daughter how many of her classmates had allergies…
…turns out she is very much in the minority on that score!
Virtually all of her friends had some sort of food or environmental stimulus that affected them.
What on earth has changed in 40 years?
If you think that I’m being a bit alarmist, maybe you will be interested in some sobering statistics about allergies in the UK:
- In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy. (Food Standards Agency, 2017)
- An estimated 21 million adults in the UK suffer from at least one allergy (Mintel, 2010)
- A staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone. (Journal of Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2009)
- Almost half (48%) of sufferers have more than one allergy – that is around 10 million people (Foods Matter, 2010)
- 50% of children and young people have one or more allergy within the first 18 years of life (Journal of Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2009)
- Experts estimate that food allergy occurs in 6 – 8 percent of children four years of age or under, and in 4% of adults (New England Journal of Medicine, 2002).
What is the cause of such dramatic increases?
According to Allergy UK, the leading allergy charity, the rates of allergies are increasing throughout the world, affecting around 30-40% of people at some stage in their lives.
But it seems that the UK is one of the top three countries in the world for the highest incidence of allergies (The Allergenic Invasion, 1999).
How could this be happening?
An international collaboration of scientists has found that young teenagers in particular are nearly 40% more likely to have severe asthma if they eat burgers and other types of fast food more than three times a week.
This research was published in the British Medical Journal and collated the information from nearly 2 million children in more than 100 countries.
Often this type of report gets a bit wishy-washy when it comes to forming a conclusion, tending to hint at a problem without naming names.
Happily this one went straight for the jugular, or at least the furred up artery!
It concluded that fast food was the only food type associated with asthma and allergies across all age ranges and countries.
The authors have been quoted as saying that “such consistency adds some weight to the possible causality of the relationship”.
In research terms that really is a strong statement.
The team which included scientists from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Spain and the UK went on to identify the possible culprits as being salt, saturated and trans fats and sugar.
Well no surprise in that list is there?
Are food manufacturers opting for the sales tactics of the tobacco barons?
I began to ponder just how significant the shift in the national diet was, in conjunction with new household cleaning products, increases in air pollution and changes in medication.
The thought struck me that much of the reported increase in allergy presentation could well be put down to over cautious parents, and media hyping of the problem.
No doubt this is true, but even if the way we fret and worry about the slightest tummy upset or skin blemish accounted for half of the increase, there would still be a worrying trend in evidence.
A few years ago I encountered a fantastic piece of journalism in the Daily Telegraph.
Reporter Peter Foster wrote an article entitled ‘We’re eating our way to disaster’, which drew comparisons with the way the tobacco and oil industries went on the offensive when legislation threatened them.
He lives and works in the USA, and has been watching how the food industry over there is beginning to react to criticisms about the quality and quantity of food on offer, especially to the young.
I must draw your attention to one paragraph where he discusses the way a buyer’s personal choice is used to defend the right of the seller to fill their product with anything they want to.
“Sure, we all exercise personal choice, but sugar – like nicotine and alcohol, from which children are protected – is addictive in large quantities”, says Foster in his piece, and I for one agree with him entirely, by substituting good quality ingredients with sugar the food companies create a dependency in their buyers…
…that’s children as young as three years old by the way!
The pace of change in the food industry allied with the increase in obesity and allergy presentations cannot be a coincidence.
Now that research is starting to make this theoretical link stronger I would urge everyone involved to wake up to the burgeoning risks and do the right things.
Yeah, I know I might as well ask for turkeys to vote for Christmas, but in the face of this type of data how can we afford not to do something?
If we really are going to look after the next generations surely we need to demand a return to honest real food values.