Just one in ten children “with food allergies” actually had them

May 5, 2017 - 06:20

Parents had steered their offspring away from a variety of foods they thought their kids were allergic to. When researchers examined the children they found that just one in ten really had a food allergy.

The Swedish parents in a study had self-diagnosed one out of five of their children as having food allergies. So these kids were kept away from milk, eggs, fish or wheat products. (Photo: Colourbox)

Researchers at Sweden’s Umeå University examined 94 children whose parents believed to have food allergies. Only nine of these kids were allergic to any foods.

“It’s terrific that such issues are being documented. This is actually something we see plenty of both in Norway and in much of the world,” says Karin Lødrup Carlsen. She is a professor at the University of Oslo (UiO) and a specialist in allergies among children and adolescents.

“Very many think they are allergic to some foodstuff or another without really being so.”

There is also a big difference between what many perceive as food allergies – and what specialists in the field can document as a genuine.

Problem for those who have allergies

Lødrup Carlsen fears that the considerable self-diagnostics of food allergies which many parents conduct on their children can lead to unfortunate consequences.

 “It can lead to a child wrongly thinking he or she has a food allergy. Thus the child is subjected to dietary restrictions that are simply unneccesary,” says Lødrup Carlsen.

“This is a problem for the children who actually do have food allergies. They might not be taken seriously.”

“With so much self-diagnostics going on by parents, with many of the youngsters not coming in contact with the health system, the children among them who really do have food allergies might not be getting the examinations and follow-ups which they should be receiving,” says Lødrup Carlsen.

Denied milk, eggs, fish and wheat

The researchers at Umeå University invited parents of 2,585 children aged 7 and 8 to participate in the study of food allergies. All in all, 96 percent wanted their children to partake in the study.

According to the parents, a total of 21 percent of these children had some sort of food allergy.

The researchers conducted a follow-up study when the children were aged 11 and 12. The parents now reported their kids had sensitivities against foodstuffs. Many of these children were getting no dairy products, eggs, fish or wheat.

The children who were assumed to have food allergies were invited by the researchers to participate in a clinical study to determine whether these allergies were bona fide. A total of 94 kids were used in a double blind study. They were given various foods which they might be allergic to.

Only nine of the 94 actually had a food allergy.

Easier social lives

One year later, the children and their parents were interviewed once again.

The children who had been medically diagnosed with food allergies reported now having better information about the symptoms they could get if they ate the wrong food. They also knew more about what courses of action to take when an allergic reaction occurred.

The children who had been informed that they didn’t have food allergies found they were less encumbered by limitations and their social relations with others became easier as they now could eat a wider variety of foods.

A big task

“In Norway we have a big job to do to bolster the health care system for better diagnostic procedures in checking children for food allergies,” says Karin Lødrup Carlsen.

“We need to boost our knowledge and our resources linked to diagnostics of children’s food allergies. Children should not be put on diets wholly on the basis of their parents’ suspicions of an allergy.”

The UiO professor asserts that food allergies cannot be simply diagnosed on the basis of a person’s history of ailments, nor on a laboratory test alone. 

“Children with possible food allergies have to be examined and diagnosed by experienced, professional personnel. This is the way to rule out or determine a food allergy. If an allergy is found these children and their parents can get help with adequate procedures and follow-ups,” she says.

Sources:

Press release from Umeå University.

Åsa Strinnholm: “Födoämnesöverkänslighet bland skolbarn - prevalens, livskvalitet och upplevelser vid dubbel-blind placebo-kontrollerad födoämnesprovokation”. Doctoral dissertation at the Department for Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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