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Fast food linked to asthma, eczema and rhinitis in children

Fast food linked to increased severity and frequency of symptoms

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 14 January 2013

Eating three or more weekly servings of fast food is linked to the severity of allergic asthma, eczema, and rhinitis among children in the developed world, a large international study published online in Thorax has found.

The researchers say that the findings suggest that a fast food diet may be contributing to the rise in these conditions, and if proved causal, could have huge implications for public health.

The study included data from more than 319,000 13-14 year olds from 107 centres in 51 countries, and more than 181,000 six to seven year olds from 64 centres in 31 countries.

The teens and the children’s parents were asked whether they had had symptoms of asthma (wheeze); rhinoconjunctivitis (which produces a runny or blocked nose accompanied by itchy and watery eyes); and eczema and frequency and in the past 12 months. They were then asked about the impact of any symptoms on daily life and sleep patterns.

They were also asked about their weekly diet and their frequency of consumption of meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, pulses, cereals, bread and pasta, rice, butter, margarine, nuts, potatoes, milk, eggs, and fast food/burgers.

The results showed that fast food was the only food type to show the same associations with symptoms of all three conditions across both age groups, prompting the authors to suggest that “such consistency adds some weight to the possible causality of the relationship.”

Fast food was associated with current and severe symptoms of all three conditions among the teens— across all centres in the participating countries. The pattern among children was less clear-cut, but a fast food diet was still associated with symptoms across all centres—except for current eczema—and poorer countries—except for current and severe asthma.

Three or more weekly servings of fast food were linked to a 39% increased risk of severe asthma among teens and a 27% increased risk among children, as well as to the severity of rhinitis and eczema, overall.

On the other hand, fruit seemed to be protective in both age groups across all centres for all three conditions among children—both current and severe—and for current and severe wheeze and rhinitis among the teens. Eating three or more weekly portions was linked to a reduction in symptom severity of between 11% and 14% among teens and children, respectively.

Professor Innes Asher, from the department of paediatrics, University of Auckland, New Zealand “If the associations between fast foods and the symptom prevalence of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema is causal, then the findings have major public health significance owing to the rising consumption of fast foods globally.”

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