It is widely accepted that food allergy rates have risen dramatically over the past two decades. According to statistics from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the rate of peanut allergies among children doubled between 1997 and 2002.

This growing problem has led many to investigate why these rates are rising, and what might be done to lower them.Delmarva Nowreports that one explanation for rising food allergy rates is the “hygiene hypothesis,” and says that if you live in the farm rather than in the city, your kids might have a reduced risk of developing food allergies.

Dr. Kurt Watkins, of Peninsula Regional Medical Center, blames the rising problem of food allergies on our increasingly hygienic lives. Dr. Watkins, a board certified allergy and immunology doctor, says that exposure to a less sanitized environment could lead to lower allergy rates. He says that this “hygiene hypothesis” is supported by evidence showing much lower food allergy rates in third world countries.

The hypothesis is that if children aren’t exposed to enough allergens at an early age, their bodies are less likely to develop a tolerance. Instead, the immune system is more likely to perceive something harmless as dangerous. He explained “If you have a cat in the household when less than age 1, in infancy, then you are less likely to have asthma at age 5. Studies show children who grow up on farms have less asthma, too.”

What do you think of this hypothesis?

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