A new study published in the July issue of Clinical Pediatrics, “GeographicVariability of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States,” attempts to map the prevalence of food allergies in children across the country. What an interesting idea, and even more interesting results! Dr. Ruchi Gupta, the lead author of the study, says that this study shows for the first time that food allergy rates are higher in denser population areas (like inner cities), and become steadily lower the more rural and sparse the population becomes. The study also reports that the states with the highest rate of food allergy (higher than 9.5 percent) are Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Alaska.
What does this mean? It means we have a lot of new questions to ask, and very few answers. But new questions are good! They add to the clues researchers need as they dig ever deeper into the causes of food allergies.
The data Gupta and her researchers uncovered also contained some surprises and some contradictions. For example, the researchers found that food allergy seemed greater in the southern states than in northern states, but that contradicts earlier studies that suggested greater exposure to sunlight (and therefore vitamin D) might help protect against food allergies. In addition, some of the states with the highest rates are close to water sources – does water affect food allergies?
In an interview in the Fall 2012 issue of Allergic Living magazine, Gupta explains that what this study does is show some intriguing trends, but we don’t have nearly enough information about them to explain the results. For instance, why are southern states higher? But if that’s the case, how do you explain Alaska showing up in the highest seven states? If proximity to bodies of water makes a difference, how does Nevada make it into the top seven? And if population density shows such clear differences in rates, what is causing it? Do people eat different foods in urban settings than they do in rural areas? Is it a difference of environment, rather than food? Education? Hygienic patterns? Something completely different that we haven’t even dreamed up yet?
Intriguing questions, for sure. And questions like these will undoubtedly spawn whole new areas of research, which can bring much-needed information to the table as we try to develop treatments, preventions, and cures for food allergy. And that’s what it’s all about, for those of us in the food allergy community.
Thank you, Dr. Gupta and your fellow researchers, for giving us more questions. Without those questions, we could never hope to find the right answers that may someday make a real difference.