Eating fast food multiple times a week increases child and teen risk of developing severe allergy based conditions. A recent study conducted by Phillippa Ellwood and colleagues of New Zealand with data from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) recently pointed fast food’s finger at higher rates of severe asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis (rhinoC), eczema, and wheezing amongst children and teens.
The study involved surveying (through questionnaire) 319,196 teens age 13-14 and parents of 181,631 children age 6-7 for allergy symptoms, symptom frequency, and weekly food intake over a 12 month period. The results showed strong associations between those who ate fast food three or more times weekly and severe allergic conditions. Specifically, the chance of developing one of these conditions over not, odds ratio (chance/chance), was:
– Severe asthma: [Children] OR = 1.27, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.42. [Teens] OR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.30 to 1.49
– Severe eczema: [Children] OR = 1.30, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.61. [Teens] OR = 1.70, 95% CI 1.48 to 1.95
– Severe rhinoC: [Children] OR = 1.32, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.68. [Teens] OR = 1.73, 95% CI 1.50 to 2.00
– Wheezing: [Children]* OR = 0.87, 95% CI 0.80 to 0.95. [Teens] OR = 1.25, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.33
*Little to no positive association
To highlight two points: These results indicate a 27% higher chance of developing severe asthma in children dining regularly on fast food, and a 70% higher chance of developing severe eczema in teens dining regularly on fast food.
In opposition to this, regular fruit eating habits seemed to offer protective effects against the development of these higher order allergies. Specifically, fruit eaten once or twice a week gave the following odds ratios of disease:
– Severe asthma: [Children] OR = 0.89, 95% CI 0.82 to 0.98. [Teens] OR = 0.89, 95% CI 0.82 to 0.98
– Severe eczema: [Children]* OR = 0.90, 95% CI 0.82 to 0.98. [Teens] OR = 0.81, 95% CI 0.67 to 0.97
– Severe rhinoC: [Children] OR = 0.72, 95% CI 0.56 to 0.93. [Teens] OR = 0.79, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.95
– Wheezing: [Children] OR = 0.90, 95% CI 0.93 to 0.97. [Teens] OR = 0.90, 95% CI 0.83 to 0.97
*Fruit ≥ 3 times a week
The associations seen here seem to suggest regular fast food consumption increases risk of developing severe allergic conditions such as severe asthma, while fruit counters this. It may look like fast food is causing the conditions, but researchers suggest regular fast food eating is rather a predictor of disease severity, not occurrence.
Eating fast food occasionally may be fine, but eating these easy meals regularly may worsen an already incoming allergic condition.
Philippa Ellwood, M. Innes Asher1, Luis García-Marcos, Hywel Williams, Ulrich Keil, Colin Robertson, Gabriele Nagel, the ISAAC Phase III Study Group. 2013. Do fast foods cause asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Global findings from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase Three. Thorax.