Mystery: Why Have Kids’ Peanut Allergies Tripled in a Decade?

A study published in the May 12 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, provides an alarming statistic:

...[a] research team surveyed 5,300 households in 2008 and discovered that 1.4% of children were thought to have peanut allergies, more than three times the 0.4% rate found when a similar tally was taken in 1997.

The study says the percentage of children with allergies to peanuts or tree nuts soared to 2.1% in 2008 from 0.6% in 1997, while remaining at 1.3% for adults. Read more at WebMD…

Parents to young kids with allergies live in a constant state of fear. Hearing that their numbers are growing is sad. What can explain this sharp rise in such a short time?

1. No real rise – There may not have been such a sharp rise, just a much higher awareness among parents to the possibility that their child may be allergic to something. Though some kids are so sensitive to peanuts that even a tiny amount can trigger a life threatening reaction, many milder reactions can include a runny nose, itching, or diarrhea. Some parents may misinterpret symptoms as an allergy when the real culprit is something else.

2. Hygiene theory – we are so clean these days – at home, at play.  Antibiotics are everywhere. Everything is disinfected. Young bodies don’t get a chance to develop strong immune systems.

3. Peanut processing changes. Perhaps the roasting affects the nuts in some way. This seems illogical because peanuts have been roasted for years.

4. Genetic modification. In the UK in 1999, peanut allergies among kids shot up 50% in one year. It was the same year that genetically modified soy was introduced to the country. Soy and peanuts are legume cousins. Could this somehow be related?

What to do at the supermarket:

If your family is lucky to be part of the 98.6% who don’t suffer from peanut allergies, they are actually a great and healthy food for kids. The problem with many peanut butters is that they have added oil and sugar in heaps. Look for peanut butter containing just peanuts.

  • lisaiz

    Yes! I have no doubt that the things we are doing to our environment, the chemicals in our foods, and the increased use of GMO crops has caused a rise in allergies! Just as pesticides are now being linked to ADHD, chemicals in our environment (even in small amounts) are being linked to cancer, an increase in allergies is definitely linked to what our bodies are being exposed! I hope the wake up calls are coming in time – say no to GMO foods; say yes to local, organic, minimally processed foods. We need to say goodbye to “convenience foods” and learn how to cook again. We also need to send a clear message to our governments and BigAg that we need a revolutionary change in our food supply (and no, I don’t mean bills like HR2749 & S510 that are potentially harmful to small food producers!).

  • Anastasia

    Peanut allergies are certainly cause for concern, particularly for people who have potentially deadly reactions to this delicious and protein rich food. We definitely need research on the potential causes and treatments. What we don’t need is wild goose chases taking funding from legitimate research.

    There just isn’t any evidence that genetically modified crops caused an increase in peanut allergies. There may have been a correlation in 1999 in the UK but that seems to be a result of random chance. In 2004, the British Medical Journal published the following as part of an assessment of any health effects of genetically modified crops:

    “It is noteworthy that hospital admissions for systemic allergic disorders, including food allergy, increased significantly in England between 1990-91 and 2000-01 despite very low levels of exposure to GM foods.”

    For more on the subject, check out:

    We see a similar story in the case of ADHD and organophosphates – another wild goose chase on our hands. While the press has been running with exaggerations and taking the study out of context, some have been a bit more cautious. Dr. Steven Novella (a neurobiologist and blogger!) has a balanced and thoughtful review of the paper:

    • RRPL

      At the same time I wouldn’t suggest that GMO foods are completely safe as we don’t have the research or the scientific understanding of microbiology to make a 100% assessment on the impact these things have on the microorganisms on and in the food we eat. I believe the most important thing to study is how foods interact with bacteria before and after we eat them since our body has more bacteria than anything else we are essentially linked to microbiology from an evolutionary stand point and anything interfering with bacteria will affect us in the long run…

  • Ellen Devens

    Ditto to the comment above.I think its very hard for our bodies, spirits and minds to handle the environmental toxins and electrical impulses from all our technologies and slowly over time we will see far greater manifestations in our bodies. Our cells are contracting versus expanding. Perhaps less blackberry’s and more blueberried.. less microwaves and more oceanwaves…. etc…

  • Toaster

    >4. Genetic modification. In the UK in 1999, peanut allergies among kids shot up 50% in one year. It was the same year that genetically modified soy was introduced to the country. Soy and peanuts are legume cousins. Could this somehow be related?

    Do you have a reference to this?

  • Smilla

    I would like to add that I know at least 4 people that eat peanuts for many years and now they became allergic on it. For example, my dad enjoyed peanut 40 years and now he is highly allergic. My nephew eat peanuts 12 years and one day his lip became so swollen after eating it. They are not blood related. My theory is that new sorts of seeds and GMO seed must the cause.