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Children's Food, Skin Allergies On the Rise: CDC

Update Date: May 02, 2013 02:39 PM EDT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that increasing number of children are developing skin and food allergies. While their research indicates that affluence is linked to increased number of allergies, health officials do not have a clear idea as to the source of this rise.

Allergies occur when the body's immune system overreacts to something that should be harmless, like pollen or peanuts. AFP reports that skin allergies, like eczema, have increased the most sharply. In the time period between 1997 and 1999, 7.4 percent of children had eczema. Between 2009 and 2011, that number jumped to 12.5 percent of children under the age of 17. The percentages of children with food allergies increased as well, from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent during that same time period. Meanwhile, rates of respiratory allergies, like hay fever, remained steady during the same time period, at about 17 percent. It is also the most common type of childhood allergy, according to NBC News.

The percentages of children with allergies also differ according to different breakdowns. Latino children are least likely to develop allergies altogether. Black children are most likely to develop skin allergies; 17 percent of Black children have skin allergies. Meanwhile, White children have the greatest risk of respiratory illnesses.

The CDC performed their study by asking parents if their children had any allergies in the previous year. Because the parents were not asked if they had received a confirmation from a doctor, parents may have overstated their children's allergies For example, parents may assume that a child broke out in hives due to consuming a certain food, while a virus was actually a culprit.

Regardless, health officials do believe that there has been a severe uptick in the number of allergies, though some do dissipate as children become older. It is not clear why that increase has occurred; many point to the hygiene hypothesis, which states that the American obsession with cleanliness may mean that children are not being exposed to germs and viruses that would ultimately keep them from developing certain allergies. That hypothesis has been somewhat supported by a recent report that found that children born overseas were less likely to develop allergies than their American-born peers.

However, Bloomberg notes that other theories have been espoused as well. Air pollution in big cities has been pinpointed as a culprit, as well as changing processes of the way that food is grown and produced.

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