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Eating shouldn't be dangerous; for many kids, it is

October 22, 2008 | 10:00 am


For kids in the United States, eating is an increasingly risky business. Food allergies among children -- defined as people under 18 -- rose 18% from 1997 to 2007, a new federal report shows.

The report, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that about 3 million children -- approximately four out of every 100 -- suffered from a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months.

The findings, culled from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Hospital Discharge Survey, also included these nuggets:

-- Hispanic kids appear less likely to suffer from food allergies. In the last 12 months, 3.9% of the nation's kids overall reported a food allergy, compared with 3.1% of Hispanic kids.

-- Prevalence shifts with age. In the last 12 months, 4.7% of kids younger than 5 reported a food allergy, compared with 3.7% of those 5 to 17.

-- Allergy-related hospitalizations among children are on the rise, from 2,615 for the 1998-2000 reporting period to 9,537 for the 2004-2006 reporting period.

-- The risk of asthma or other allergies increases dramatically for children with food allergies. They're two to four times more likely to suffer from these conditions than are kids without such allergies. For example, 8% of children without a food allergy suffered eczema or skin allergy, compared with 27% of children with a food allergy. Such statistics suggest hypervigilance on the part of kids and their parents is not unwarranted.

The most common food sources of allergic reactions are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network offers information on hidden sources of these foods and on how to manage food allergies.

Let's be careful out there.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Adding whole grain wheat bread to your diet may be a great idea for many people, but not those with wheat allergies. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times