One in thirteen children have a food allergy today. That is about two students for every classroom in the U.S. Food allergies and asthma have increased two or three times over the twentieth century. And experts say this trend seems to be increasing with each new generation. Between 1997 and 2008 peanut allergies have tripled. There are theories as to why this increase in food allergies has occurred. One considers that our society is too sterile. Researchers have noticed for example that children that grow up on farms in China experience fewer allergies than those who grow up in urban environments. This same phenomenon was recorded in England all the way back in the nineteenth century. The Amish, whose pregnant women and children tend to farms and farm animals all day, have the least allergies to any population on earth.
An allergy is the immune system attacking a harmless stimulus rather than a foreign invader. So this theory that exposure to more bacteria can cause less allergies seems strange. The idea is that the immune system will make more regulator T cells, the ones that spot foreign invaders and call the killer T cells to attack a foreign entity within the body. With early exposure to different microbes and substances the regulator T cells get familiar with which invaders are harmful and which are harmless. A mother who is exposed and forms many regulator T cells can pass this on to her baby. Another theory posited by Popular Science states that children don’t play enough outside, robbing them of crucial vitamin D. Increased levels of vitamin D aid the immune system is noticing harmless substances over harmful ones. CEO of the nonprofit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Anne Muñoz-Furlong believes that great hygiene and advancements in modern medicine have given kids’ immune systems little to be on the lookout for, so they find things to attack. Though there is no conclusive evidence, advances through research will someday find the right answer to this baffling question. Until then be sure to keep an eye on what your kids bring to school and how they react to certain foods.