First study to map food allergies across U.S. finds population density is key factor.

Recently a study was published in Clinical Pediatricians that revealed a correlation between children’s food allergies and where they lived, be it urban or rural areas.   It’s an interesting case study, and one that doesn’t really provide much insight into the reasons behind the results, which leads me to have more questions than anything else.  

For example, since we know that food allergy prevalence is often tied to genetics, are the foods consumed in the urban areas less ‘natural or whole’, meaning more processed? Has that led to a greater likelihood to develop a genetic predisposition towards food allergies?  I mean, if it doesn’t have something to do with food consumption, what else could it be? Are we really thinking that people in rural areas have less genetic deficiencies related to food allergies? Or that food allergies are tied to the population counts? Or is it more likely that food exposure plays a critical part in the genetics behind food allergies? 

The reality is, we don’t yet know, but you can read on for the details of the report…

Children living in urban centers have a much higher prevalence of food allergies than those living in rural areas, according to a new study, which is the first to map children’s food allergies by geographical location in the United States. In particular, kids in big cities are more than twice as likely to have peanut and shellfish allergies compared to rural communities. The study, which was funded by FAI, and published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics, can be found here. 

“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, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children’s Memorial). “This shows that environment has an impact on developing food allergies.  Similar trends have been seen for related conditions like asthma. The big question is – what in the environment is triggering them? A better understanding of environmental factors will help us with prevention efforts.”

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. Here are the key findings of the study:

  • 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.
So, now that you’ve read the report, or at least the highlights above, what do you think?  What are your thoughts on the correlations?