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Food allergies: Why are more kids getting them?

The CDC says food allergies are on the rise in children, and scientists are trying to figure out why.

HOUSTON — Food is not only something we all need; it is often the center of a social situation. Most people really enjoy eating. But for parents whose children have a serious food allergy, food can become a very scary thing.

According to the Center for Disease Control, food allergies in kids are on the rise, and scientists are trying to figure out why.

For most adults over 30, PB&J's were likely the token lunch at school, but today, you’d be hard pressed to find a school that allows peanuts anywhere on campus.

What’s the deal? Are we all just paranoid now about food allergies?

Dr. Eric Sandberg with Kelsey Seybold says no, it's not paranoia.

“All the data indicates that the number of food allergies in children has been rising," Dr. Sandberg explained. "And it has been a big question of why that really happens.”

The CDC says since 1997, food allergies in kids has spiked more than 50% with numbers tripling when it comes to peanut or tree nut allergies. We’re talking 5.6 million kids with a food allergy which boils down to 1 in 13.

Why? Right now, there are just theories.

“One idea is that has gotten a lot of traction is we live in a cleaner society," Dr. Sandberg said. "So because of that cleanliness, we have less infections, which is a good thing, but it may skew our immune system to develop some of these food allergies.”

Kind of like your body’s fighting food because it doesn’t have much else to fight.

The biggest culprits are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.

Sandberg said food allergies can cause a lot of anxiety for parents trying to make sure their kids are safe out of their care.

“Serious food allergies create tremendous stress for the family. It puts parents under a lot of pressure and makes them very nervous about going out," he said.

So what are your options? Avoidance is the best and most obvious one. Doctors have also started recommending introducing certain foods, like peanuts, at a younger age. And some are looking into desensitization, trying to build tolerance to their food allergy under medical care, which can be dangerous.

“It’s not quantity-based. Very small amounts can trigger very significant reactions," Dr. Sandberg said.

There is no known cure for a food allergy. As to why so many kids are developing them? That’s a nut scientists are hoping to crack.


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