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Va. Beach holds allergy awareness fair

Jordan Crawford | 9/25/2013, 3:32 p.m.
Members of the Food Allergy Association Virginia Beach chapter recently held an eduction and awareness fair.
The Food Allergy Association Virginia Beach chapter recently held an education and awareness fair at Whole Foods in Virginia Beach.

The number of American youth with food allergies is roughly 15 million, and an estimated 4 percent of children and teens are now affected with the condition, a new federal report says.

In 2007, approximately 3 million children under the age of 18 were reported to have had a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months, compared to slightly more than 2.3 million children in 1997, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is not really known how a person develops a food allergy. They are more common in children than adults, and the majority of children with food allergies will “outgrow” them as they get older. But for some, a food allergy can become a lifelong concern, the report said.

National nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has a poster which says, “Food allergy doesn’t discriminate.” Seemingly on the contrary, scientific research shows that food allergy actually affects black children more than other ethnicities.

According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, minority children and children from low-income families are more likely to have undiagnosed and untreated food allergies than their majority or more affluent peers.

Black children are twice as likely as white children to have peanut and milk allergies and four times as likely to be allergic to shellfish. Unlike some other food allergies, which children tend to outgrow, shellfish and peanut allergies are more likely to continue into adulthood, creating a lifelong risk.

Eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies-- milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Allergic reactions to these foods can range from a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, to hives and even death, depending on the severity of the reaction.

“In the event of an allergic reaction, immediately treat the child with an epinephrine shot,” said Kristin Osborne, president of the Food Allergy Association of Virginia Beach.

Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergies, compared to children without food allergies. Subsequently, research suggests that black children are more likely to have asthma.

Why the disproportion?

According to Dr. Rajesh Kumar, pediatrician at Northwestern University Medical School, scientists found black children are seven percent more likely than other children to have antibodies to the allergy-causing foods.

“This is one way for us to start teasing out why there are increased risks in this population,” he said. “What we did was confirm that, one, yes, there is increased risk among black children for food sensitization and, two, we are starting to get at why they are at increased risk.”

The most common food allergies among black children are peanut, milk, and egg allergies.

Kumar suggests that these factors may include things such as the fact that newborns of African American ancestry tend to have lower vitamin D levels, which has been linked to an increased risk of allergic diseases. Or, that those who identify themselves as being black may adhere to cultural dictates for when babies are introduced to milk, which can affect how newborns’ immune systems react to it.

On Saturday, members of the Food Allergy Association Virginia Beach chapter held an education and awareness fair at Whole Foods Virginia Beach.

“I find it appalling that many minority cases of food allergies go undiagnosed and many of these families are unaware of how to treat their symptoms,” said Liz Koman, Ph.D. of Food Allergy Associates. “My partners and I strive to promote knowledge on a very common aspect of immune system health.”

Koman and Osborne conducted a Food Allergies 101 class and Navigating Food Allergies class. Those in attendance were encouraged to sign up for the Food Allergy Association annual walk in November.