If you’re a kid living in the city, you’re a lot more likely to have a food allergy than if you live out a farm. In fact, you’re also more likely to have a food allergy than kids living in your city’s suburbs or in adjacent small towns, with the gap growing as the population decreases.
A study published in the July 2012 issue of Clinical Pediatrics found that in cities, almost 9.8 percent of young people have food allergies, while only 6.2 percent of rural kids had this condition. Shellfish allergies were three times as common in city kids and peanut allergies were double the farm incidence.
Using data from a survey of 38,465 young people from infancy to age 18, “we have found for the first time that higher population density corresponds with a greater likelihood of food allergies in children,” says lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Previously, similar demographic trends have been found for the incidence of environmental allergies and asthma.
The study, funded by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), effectively “maps” the occurrence of food allergy across the United States. The states with the highest rates of food allergy (greater than 9.5 percent) were Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Alaska. Gupta is also the author of a 2011 study that found 8 percent of children across the United States have food allergies.
In an interview with Allergic Living, Gupta notes intriguing trends that need more investigation. For instance, in her Q&A with editor Gwen Smith, she says she is fascinated to find a greater tendency to have food allergy in southern states – which she agrees is contrary to studies that find vitamin D in areas with stronger sun exposure may protect against allergies. She also sees proximity to water as a variable that deserves more scrutiny.
Next page: Q&A on Food Allergy’s Traits