Fast food = severe asthma?

2013-02-03 10:00

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New study reveals that kids who eat hamburgers three or more times a week risk allergies.

Be careful what junk food your kids eat – the tasty treats may come with unwanted side dishes of severe asthma, hay fever and eczema.

A new study published last week in the British respiratory journal, Thorax, revealed that children who ate fast food, especially hamburgers, three or more times a week were at a higher risk of developing severe asthma, hay fever and eczema than those who ate fruit instead.

The findings from 51 countries, including South Africa, published last week, showed that teenagers who had three or more weekly servings of fast foods increased their risk of developing severe symptoms of all three conditions by 39%.

Younger children increased their chances of developing those allergies by 27%.

While the results didn’t explain what triggers these severe allergic conditions, Professor Heather Zar, principal local investigator in the study and director of paediatric pulmonology at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, said the findings were very important for South Africa.

“The increasing consumption of fast foods is a growing problem in the country,” she said.

“Several studies have shown that excessive consumption of fast foods leads to obesity. As obesity is associated with asthma it may lead to an increase in asthma.”

Head of the department of occupational health at the University of Pretoria and coauthor of the study, Professor Kuku Voyi, agreed.

“South Africans should be concerned about the amount of fast foods their children consume in relation to the findings of the study,” she said.

More than 319?000 teenagers, aged between 13 and 14, and a further 181?000 children between the ages of six and seven, participated in the study.

Participants were asked about what they ate each week and whether or not they experienced symptoms of asthma, including wheezing; hay fever, which included a runny or blocked nose and itchy, watery eyes; and the telltale rash of eczema.

Researchers focused on the frequency and severity of the symptoms, as well as their interference with the children’s daily lives and sleep patterns.

They also concentrated on certain types of food that the children had eaten.

Fast food triggers allergies more than any other food type but, owing to limitations in the questions, Voyi said that which particular fast foods and outlets triggered allergy-related conditions was not investigated.

Although the findings do not uncover what the food contains that may be responsible for allergies, they did highlight that fast foods have high levels of saturated and trans-fatty acids, known to affect immunity.

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