Junk food linked to asthma, other allergic disorders in children
Although most would agree that junk food is unhealthy, many can’t resist the temptation to pull up to the window of their favorite fast food joint to purchase a sackful of greasy calorie-laden goodies. An international team of researchers have unearthed yet another reason to avoid junk food; they found a link between its consumption and asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis (nose and eye inflammation), and eczema. In addition, they found a dietary plan that could counteract to some extent the harmful effects of junk food in children that consumed them. They published their findings on January 14 in the British Medical Journal.
The researchers noted that certain foods may increase or decrease the risk of developing asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema. Therefore, they explored the impact of the intake of types of food on these diseases in Phase Three of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. They asked 13 to 14-year-old adolescents and the parents or guardians of 6 to 7-year-old children to complete written questionnaires regarding symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema. The study group comprised 181,000 children aged 6 to 7 and 319,000 children aged 13 to 14 from 50 different countries. In addition, the respondents were queried regarding the types and frequency of food intake over the past 12 months. Prevalence odds ratios were estimated. The odds ratio is a measure of effect size, describing the strength of association or non-independence between two data values. In this case it was the association between allergic disorders and junk food.
The researchers found an increased risk of severe asthma in adolescents and children who consumed fast food three or more times per week, as well as an increased risk of severe rhinoconjunctivitis and severe eczema. The researchers noted that similar patterns for both age groups were observed for regional analyses, and were consistent with gender and affluence categories as well as with current symptoms of all three conditions. In summary, children who ate food such as hamburgers three times a week or more were 39% more likely to develop severe asthma. Younger children were at 27% increased at risk.
The researchers also found a protective effect from adding healthy foods to the diet. They found a potential protective effect on severe asthma with consumption of fruit three or more times per week.
The authors concluded that if the association between fast foods and the symptom prevalence of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema is causal (i.e., fast foods cause allergic disorders), then the findings have major public health significance owing to the rising consumption of fast foods globally.
Take home message:
This study points to yet another deleterious effect of an unhealthy diet. Although fruit consumption was found to have a protective effect, that should not be interpreted as an appropriate method of prevention. A diet high in fast food contributes to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.
Reference: British Medical Journal
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