A recent study involving 40,000 families in the United States found that nearly 8 percent of children (age 18 and under) have at least one food allergy.

According to the research, recently published in ‘Pediatrics,’ peanut allergy is the most common food allergy among this age group. Pediatrician Dr. Ruchi Gupta, the study’s lead author, says that this allergy accounts for 25 percent of all food allergies in kids. That adds up to roughly six million kids in the U.S. alone. Two in five of these children have severe peanut allergies, with the potential for life-threatening allergic reactions.

There are eight foods that account for over 90 percent of all food allergies. These include cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are many other comparably rare food allergies, including those to pork, lettuce, honey, and strawberries.

According to Dr. Gupta, doctors, parents, and teachers have noticed a dramatic rise in food allergies over the past few years. However, research into diagnosis and treating food allergies has been lagging. What is known is that food allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein.

Why are food allergy rates rising? According to Dr. Gupta, one theory is that the modern world is too sterile, leaving the immune system ill prepared to handle potential threats. “Our immune systems aren’t able to fight the germs they used to fight, and so they are fighting things they shouldn’t be fighting, like food and environment,” she said. Another theory is that pesticides and chemicals in processed foods have changed the composition of bacteria in the digestive tract that normally helps us to digest food.

An ongoing study, the National Children’s Study, is following children from birth until age 18. Dr. Gupta says that it may someday give us answers about why food allergies occur.

Read more about the recent survey here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/us/july-dec11/foodallergies_0…

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