Equity of Food Allergies

By Jubilee Lopez

Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)

Discussion about lower income children regarding food (access, cost, nutrition, etc.) is common, but wealthier children may have their own worries regarding food as well. Findings that support a “hygiene hypothesis” (the notion that children who aren’t exposed to enough germs in early childhood are at greater risk for developing allergies) are now being supported with scientific research.

According to a recent study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “children from affluent families may be more likely to develop life-threatening peanut allergies, in part, because they’re not exposed to enough germs in early childhood.”

According to the  National Center for Health Statistics, “Food and respiratory allergy prevalence increased with income level. Children with family income equal to or greater than 200% of the poverty level had the highest prevalence rates.”

“What’s interesting about food allergy is that we tend to see it more in mid- to high-income Caucasian kids,” says the study’s lead author, Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “So one big question I had was: Is food allergy really less prevalent in minority and low-income kids or are we just not diagnosing it in them?”

According to New York Daily News article, “among children below the poverty line, 4.4 percent had a food allergy and 14.9 had a respiratory allergy.” This data should be compared with families who have the highest incomes where 5.4 percent of children had a food allergy and 18.3 percent had a respiratory allergy.”

The next questions is – why the disparities? If food allergies are more common in children of racial and ethnic minority groups, why do these kids have a lower chance of being diagnosed? Is it simply because there’s a need for more awareness about these allergies in communities of color? Or are the usual socio-economic suspects that so often contribute to health disparities—such as cultural and linguistic barriers, limited financial resources, and unequal access to quality medical care—also a factor?

The cost of substitute food seems the be a motivator for parents to stay idle. “We just did a study on the economics of food allergy,” reports Gupta, who is the author of the book The Food Allergy Experience, a guide for families, caregivers, and teachers of food-allergic kids. “It found that ‘special foods for your child’ was one of the biggest out-of-pocket costs for these families.”

“The new research found that Asian and black children are more likely to have food allergies than white children, yet white children are more likely to get a confirmed diagnosis than Asian, black and Hispanic children. Those who came from regions outside the Midwest were also more likely to have food allergies. Children in households with an income of less than $50,000 had less of a chance of having food allergies” added an article from CNN.

Before we jump to any wild conclusions and start throwing our children in the mud we must consider the other side of this information.

In the American University study, which looked at 8,300 people, found correlation linking overall household income and peanut sensitization in children ages one to nine but, by age 10, there was no clear link between peanut allergies and wealth.

“It’s important to remember that you can have sensitivity, but not the allergy,” says Dr. Ruchi Gupta, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine.

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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