- Children could be more susceptible to food allergies because their diets contain more processed junk food, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. The research demonstrated a link between advanced glycation end products (AGEs) — which are commonly found in processed and sugary foods — and allergies.
- The study was conducted with children between the ages of 6 and 12 in three groups: those with food allergies, those with respiratory allergies and those with no allergies. Children with food allergies were found to have higher levels of AGEs than children who had either respiratory allergies or no allergies at all.
- Although further studies need to be done, scientists were concerned about the results since highly processed foods have been reported as comprising up to 50% of total daily energy intake in some countries and food allergies have been on the rise across the globe, according to Eureka Alert.
Junk food has been notoriously associated with all things unhealthy, and this latest study adds allergies to the list of potential detrimental effects. But despite research linking junk food to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, people continue to indulge.
Consumption of ultra-processed foods remains high across the globe, and more than a third of Americans eat fast food daily. Although consumers continue to eat junk food, there has been a shift in demand as nutrition has become a bigger concern. In recent years, consumers — particularly millennials and Generation Z — have been adopting healthier eating habits. Parents are offering children more organic food at more times in the day, according to statistics from the NPD Group. These numbers could show younger generations are shifting more toward healthier eating, but change will still take time.
Food allergies have been on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of food allergies in American children went up 50% between 1997 and 2011. A study from FAIR Health that the number of insurance claims filed for severe allergic reaction to food increased 377% from 2007 to 2016, and roughly two-thirds of the claims were filed for patients 18 years old and younger.
This increase in allergies has opened a new market for food manufacturers looking to cater to consumers with these restrictions. Nestlé released three-ingredient Simple Delicious Morsels under its Toll House chocolate line, which are free from the eight major allergens. And Mondelez's Enjoy Life, which it acquired in 2015, makes snacks and sweets that are free of 14 common allergens.
But the rise in food allergies also makes things more difficult for both consumers and CPG manufacturers. The most common allergies don’t necessarily overlap with the sectors with the highest growth. Getting an allergen-free certification requires paperwork and a lot of testing, both of which come with a price tag.
Although this study was small — only 61 children participated — its findings could be big. If other researchers are able to corroborate these findings, the focus on children could have more of an impact on brands selling junk food. Parents might be more apt to restrict their kids' intake if it would prevent allergies. Already, people are moving away from chips and cookies. These same consumers are asking for updates to classics like canned soup and microwaveable meals to contain fewer preservatives and more wholesome ingredients.
Companies have been complying with consumer demand and reorienting their products to appeal to a healthier palate, but it may not be enough. If it turns out that AGEs are indeed the missing link that is causing the spike in food allergies, making changes could become a matter of public health and not just consumers putting on pressure.