THE HEALTHY TRUTH: In the last decade, the number of Australians admitted to hospital for severe allergic reactions to food has doubled.
And for children under the age of four years old, it has increased five fold, putting us at the top of the international list of food allergy sufferers.
I've worked in hospital emergency departments and have treated patients suffering life threatening food allergies, and I think the trend is worrying.
So why has this occurred? What can we do to turn the trend around?
I recently met Anne Marie McGuiness, who runs her daughter's school canteen and has a big reason to care about what is in her children's food – her child has anaphylaxis.
“When they're little it's overwhelming and all consuming and hard to get used to,” Anne Marie said.
A true food allergy is where the body's immune system overreacts to usually harmless proteins in certain foods.
“If it's not treated, it can even lead to death, so it is a very serious condition,” Dr Alan Barclay from Dieticians Assocation of Australia said.
The most common allergy trigger foods in Australia are:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish and other seafood
The main theories why allergy rates are rising:
- Processed foods interfering with bacteria in our gut
- Delaying when we introduce certain foods to our children
But the most popular theory is the Hygiene Hypothesis.
“It's thought that perhaps our overly cleanly environment may be contributing, basically the immune system no longer has as much to do as it used to, and perhaps it's becoming sensitised to food and other things,” Dr Barclay said.
While we still don't know what causes food allergies, we can help our children strengthen their immune systems in other ways.
“Making sure that kids are getting the good exposures to the environment that they should do anyway playing outside, getting lots of healthy sunlight, and if they want to play in the mud, that's fine,” Professor Katie Allen from Murdoch Children’s Research Centre said.
I really was hoping to find the definitive answer to why we have such high rates of food allergy here in Australia but the truth is there isn't one, yet.
We know it's only just started in the last few decades, we know it's got something to do with our modern lifestyle, but until one cause is identified.
My verdict? Let your kids get a little bit dirty, don’t delay the introduction of any foods and do your best to reduce the amount of processed food in your family diet.