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Junk food linked to asthma, other allergic disorders in children

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
asthma, eczema, child allergy, fast food, junk food

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.

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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

See also:
Government study explains why Americans have shorter lives, poorer health

Current status of the war against child obesity
Low Vitamin D levels increase risk of type 1 diabetes
Vitamin D reported to lower the risk of multiple sclerosis
Health advocacy organization PHA combatting child obesity with Play Streets



There are many types of fast foods, some might be healthier than others. Putting them all in the one basket without finding the actual ingredient(s) in those type of foods seems a little unfair.. "At least 50% of all children in the United States are allergic to cow's milk, many undiagnosed. Dairy products are the leading cause of food allergy, often revealed by diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue. Many cases of asthma and sinus infections are reported to be relieved and even eliminated by cutting out dairy." Natural Health, July, 1994, Nathaniel Mead, MD "In reality, cow's milk, especially processed cow's milk, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including: mucous production, hemoglobin loss, childhood diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, kidney stones, mood swings, depression, irritability, and ALLERGIES." Townsend Medical Letter, May, 1995, Julie Klotter, MD “Dairy products may play a major role in the development of ALLERGIES, asthma, sleep difficulties, and migraine headaches." Israel Journal of Medical Sciences 1983;19(9):806-809 Pediatrics 1989;84(4):595-603
There's a new study that shows kids are getting their vitamin D mostly from cow's milk and supplements. Without one or the other, they don't get enough of the essential nutrient. Where can they get vitamin D? It's crucial. Kids used to have all kinds of health issues related to vitamin D deficiency until it was added to milk. We don't want to go backwards.
Hi Kathleen, Thank you for your reply. Vitamin D is commonly called a vitamin, although it is not actually an essential dietary vitamin in the strict sense, as it can be synthesized in adequate amounts by most mammals exposed to sunlight. 1 hour a week in the outdoors supplies adequate vitamin D for the average person for intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate. Even sitting indoors in sunlight can provide this important vitamin in sufficient amounts. As I mentioned before, many people are allergic to, or have GI problems because of dairy products. In the allergic response, the immune system is activated instead of the digestive system, and Vitamin D can not be digested nor absorbed. A supplement for those in the far Northern or far Southern reaches of the world might be beneficial. The best sources of Vitamin D are foods and sunlight, according to the Institute of Medicine. Most people (including many erroneously diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency) don't need supplements – so try these Vitamin D-rich foods in some of our favorite recipes. If you eat a varied diet and get some sun then you are more than likely getting all the Vitamin D you need from these sources. Salmon, tuna, pork, eggs, mushrooms, beef liver, are all good sources of both calcium and Vitamin D Confusion about the amount of vitamin D necessary to ward off deficiency has arisen in recent years as tests that measure levels in patients' blood have become widely used. The measurements of sufficiency and deficiency — the cutpoints — that clinical laboratories use to report test results have not been based on rigorous scientific studies and are not standardized. This lack of agreement means the same individual could be declared deficient or sufficient depending on which laboratory reads the test. There may be an overestimation of the number of people with vitamin D deficiency because many labs appear to be using cutpoints that are higher than the evidence indicates are appropriate. Based on available data, almost all individuals get sufficient vitamin D when their blood levels are at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter as it is measured in America, or 50 nanomoles per liter as measured in Canada. Peter Frost*, of the Department of Anthropology, Laval University, Quebec, Canada writes; "Vitamin D deficiency seems to be common among northern Native peoples, notably Inuit and Amerindians. It has usually been attributed to: (1) higher latitudes that prevent vitamin D synthesis most of the year; (2) darker skin that blocks solar UVB; and (3) fewer dietary sources of vitamin D. Although vitamin D levels are clearly lower among northern Natives, it is less clear that these lower levels indicate a deficiency. The above factors predate European contact, yet pre-Columbian skeletons show few signs of rickets—the most visible sign of vitamin D deficiency. Furthermore, because northern Natives have long inhabited high latitudes, natural selection should have progressively reduced their vitamin D requirements. There is in fact evidence that the Inuit have compensated for decreased production of vitamin D through increased conversion to its most active form and through receptors that bind more effectively. Thus, when diagnosing vitamin D deficiency in these populations, we should not use norms that were originally developed for European-descended populations who produce this vitamin more easily and have adapted accordingly."
Right - vitamin D is a hormone. The study actually talked about vitamin D deficiency regardless of skin color and ethnicity and common known factors that inhibit synthesis. 'll try to send it to you if I can find it again.
A United States Institute of Medicine, (IOM) report states: "Outcomes related to cancer, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, falls and physical performance, immune functioning and autoimmune disorders, infections, neuropsychological functioning, and preeclampsia could not be linked reliably with calcium or vitamin D intake and were often conflicting. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft statement recommending that there is not enough evidence to indicate that healthy postmenopausal women should use supplemental doses of calcium or vitamin D to prevent fractures. (Wikipedia)