Robyn O’Brien, a Texas native raised on Twinkies, never expected to be a “real food” advocate. But after one of her four children experienced a severe allergic reaction to a typical American breakfast one morning, she soon became a crusader for safer food.
“If you had asked me if I'd ever imagined myself to be on the frontlines of this food fight for our children, I'd have said, ‘No way. I'm not that kind of mom,'” O’Brien wrote on her website. “But when I learned how polluted our food supply had become—and the record amounts of pesticides, artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, artificial dyes and genetically mutated foods that we are all consuming—I could not unlearn this information.”
O’Brien is the author of “The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It” and founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, a group working to protect American children with autism, ADHD, asthma or allergies from the additives in our food supply.
The largest study of food allergies in U.S. children released on June 20, 2011 demonstrated that the medical community is catching up to advocates by assessing the issue. Researchers found that allergies may be more common and more dangerous than previously recognized.
The study surveyed almost 40,000 parents across the country about whether their child had been either diagnosed with a food allergy or had experienced symptoms of food allergies. From the surveys, researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine now estimate that about 8 percent, or 6 million children, now have a food allergy and many children have more than one allergy.
This research also offers new estimates on the severity of food allergies, showing that almost 40 percent of kids with food allergies experience severe reactions like wheezing, difficulty breathing and even sudden drops in blood pressure. Less severe reactions include lip swelling and hives.
“I don't think people quite understand food allergy," said study researcher Ruchi S. Gupta, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago in a WebMD article. “It could be something that's life-threatening. It could cause death.”
Food allergies were highest in preschoolers aged 3 to 5 years old. The top three allergens were peanuts, milk and shellfish, according to the study.
A food allergy is typically defined as any abnormal response to food triggered by the body’s immune system. But the medical literature is still slow to agree on a universal definition, making estimates of food allergies lower until now.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.
Reviewed June 23, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton