Ask the experts: Food allergies

Q: "How many people in NZ have food allergies and are they becoming more common?"

Name not supplied

A: We asked Sara-Jane Murison from Allergy New Zealand. She responds:

"It is generally accepted that around 2-4% of the population is affected; a recent study in the United States suggested food allergy affects almost 4% of the population, including 6% of young children. If we use these figures for New Zealand, 160,000 people could be affected.

In addition to people with food allergies there are many people who have a food intolerance or sensitivity, so the chances of you having to cater for someone with food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity is pretty high.

It does appear that true food allergies are becoming more common. We don't know why but it might be related to the fact we raise our children in clean homes and they are not exposed to bacteria, viruses and many serious illnesses that once killed children. As a consequence their immune systems don't have as much to do, so they go astray and attack harmless things like food, pollen, pet dander or medicines. On the other hand, it may be related to our changing diet or the way food is processed.

It is known that genetics play a big part: a baby with parents or siblings who have any sort of allergy, such as hay fever, has a much greater chance of developing an allergy themselves. This can be a food allergy, some other kind of allergy, or both. It is not the actual allergy, but the tendency to develop allergy, that is inherited."

First published: Jan 2007

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