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Asthma and eczema linked to junk food

15th January 2013

A multinational study has found children who eat fast food several times a week could be at greater risk of asthma than those on a healthier diet.


Hamburgers, fried chicken and fries are generally associated in people's minds with the threat of high blood pressure and heart disease, not to mention an epidemic of childhood obesity.

But a new international study has found children who eat fast food more than twice times a week are more likely to suffer from eczema and asthma.

Writing in the journal Thorax, researchers analysed data from children enrolled in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, a collaborative research project made up of nearly 2 million children from 100 countries.

They used data from 51 countries relating to 319,000 children between the ages of 13 and 14, as well as from 181,000 6-7-year-olds from 31 countries.

Study participants' parents had answered questionnaires about the amount of wheezing, runny or congested nose and skin roughness their children had suffered in the 12 months before the study.

They had also answered questions on their children's eating habits, particularly how often they ate dairy foods, fruit and vegetables, meat, rice, nuts and eggs, as well as commercial fast food.

According to study co-author Hywel Williams, Dermato-Epidemiology professor at the University of Nottingham, the wording of the questionnaires had been set as Fast food/burgers, to indicate food bought from fast food outlets rather than prepared at home.

However, some may have given their children home-made burgers.

The only food type that showed a clear link with the incidence of asthma and eczema in children was fast food, the research team found.

This link held regardless of the economic status of the family or the gender of the child.

Children who ate three or more servings of fast food a week were 39% more likely to experience severe asthma as teenagers, and 27% more likely if they were younger than that.

The team concluded that the findings had shown a consistent pattern for the adolescent group linking symptoms and fast foods.

They said the finding was particularly significant as adolescents are generally considered more likely to eat fast food than other age groups.

While typical fast-food meals contain a host of potential allergy triggers, the link is not likely to be allergy related, Williams said.

He said that in cases where people had known food allergies they tended to avoid them, and thereby avoided triggering their asthma or eczema.

The team speculated that fat intake was a more likely culprit behind the association, especially industrially hydrogenated vegetable fats like margarine which contain trans fats.

They said intake of trans fats was already linked to asthma.

The cure seems to be a simple one, however: more fruit and vegetables.

Parents who gave their children fruit or vegetables three or more times a week could reduce their symptoms by up to 14$, the study said.

They concluded that diets that have a regular consumption of fruit and vegetables are likely to protect against asthma, allergic disease and other non-communicable diseases.

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