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    Allergies on the rise in US kids, government study finds

    By Steve James, NBC News contributor
    Allergies triggered by food or the environment have risen sharply in U.S. children in recent years, especially among more affluent families, according to a large government study. The "epidemic" rise in allergies, as one expert describes it, is of concern because it increases the risk of potentially fatal respiratory diseases or disfiguring skin conditions that could require long-term care.
    The latest data, released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control, showed the prevalence of food allergies increased in children under age 18 from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 5.1 percent in 2011. Skin allergies rose from 7.4 percent to 12.5 percent in the same time period.

    “Allergic disease is an epidemic and it may not have plateaued yet," said Dr. Sakina Bajowala, an allergist in suburban Chicago, who was not associated with the CDC study. “Every day we get new calls from patients. We see a lot more kids, not with just one allergy, but several."

    The CDC numbers show that black children are more likely to suffer skin allergies, while whites are at greater risk of respiratory problems. But the data also reveals that that the prevalence of allergies increases with income level and children whose family income is 200 percent of the poverty level had the highest prevalence rates.
    According to the CDC’s National Center of Health Statistics, younger children were more likely to have skin allergies, while older children were more likely to have respiratory allergies. Hispanic children had a lower prevalence of food, skin and respiratory allergy than children of other races.
    CDC statistician Lajeana Howie, who helped conduct the study, said researchers looked at data from 9,000 to 12,000 people representing a cross section of the U.S. population. But, she said, the study only looked at the prevalence of allergies, it did not determine the causes.
    Howie said she could not speculate why children from more affluent families had higher incidences of allergies, because of the confidential nature of the CDC study.
    Dr. Bajowala, whose practice is in the relatively affluent suburb of Aurora, Illinois, said: ”There is no hard data to explain why affluence is related to allergies.” In an interview with, she suggested various reasons, ranging from more frequent doctor visits by affluent parents with health insurance, basic differences in diet between poorer and better-off kids, or a higher frequency of antibiotics in some children.
    Foods are the most common cause of anaphylaxis—a potentially fatal severe allergic reaction-- among children and adolescents, the CDC said.
    Just this week, Bajowala said she treated a 6-year-old boy with life-threatening allergies to more than five different foods, a 4-year-old girl with severe eczema over 20 percent of her body and a wheezing 3-year-old child whose parents worry might develop asthma.