Kids and food allergies

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A study suggests that young children with food allergies tend to be somewhat smaller than their peers with no such allergies, despite having a similar nutrient intake.

On average, food-allergic children in the study were still well within the normal ranges of weight and height for their age.

But the findings underscore the importance of making sure kids with food allergies have a well-balanced diet and see the paediatrician for routine growth check-ups, the researchers report in the journal Paediatric Allergy and Immunology.

Research suggests that food allergies are becoming more common among children worldwide. An estimated 4% of U.S. children have a food allergy most commonly to peanuts, cow's milk and eggs.

Since parents have to be careful about food selection for children with such allergies, there is concern that some kids may not get enough of certain needed nutrients.

For the new study, Dr. Antoine Deschildre and colleagues at Jeanne de Flandre Hospital in Lille, France, assessed 96 children with confirmed food allergies, diagnosed after objective testing. Each was matched with another child the same age and sex but free of food allergies. Children in both groups were 4 years old, on average.

Overall, the researchers found no difference in the average weight and height in the two groups. When they looked at the children's weight-for-age and height-for-age, however, the average figures tended to be lower though still normal in the food-allergy group.

In addition, nine children with food allergies had a weight-for-age "Z-score" that was more than two standard deviations below the median, or midpoint, for their age and sex compared with none of the allergy-free children.

Similarly, seven food-allergic children had a height-for-age score that was two standard deviations below the median, versus two allergy-free children.

Z-scores are a way of gauging a child's weight and height in relation to those of other children of the same age and sex. For a 4-year-old girl, for example, the median Z-score translates to a weight of about 35 pounds; a girl who is two standard deviations below that would weigh about 26 pounds, based on World Health Organization growth charts.

The reasons for the differences are not clear, according to Deschildre's team.

When the researchers had parents complete three-day diet records for their children, they found no significant differences between the two groups as far as calorie, protein and calcium intake. Children with food allergies tended to get more vitamin A and E than their peers.

One possibility, Deschildre's team speculates, is that persistent intestinal inflammation in children with food allergies reduces their nutrient absorption. Whether that is in fact the case is unknown, however.

Parents of most of the children with food allergies 88% had received nutritional counselling from a dietician, while the rest had gotten advice from their paediatricians, the researchers note.

They say their findings underscore the importance of such counselling, and of regular evaluations of children's growth, to limit any growth disparities in children with food allergies.

Does your child have food allergies?

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