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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Fast food linked to asthma and eczema in children

Study finds junk food may make symptoms worse but fruit has a protective effect
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

14th January 2013 - Eating three or more servings of fast food a week is linked to the severity of allergic asthma, eczema, and rhinitis among children in the developed world.

The findings, from a large international study, have prompted the authors to suggest that a fast food diet may be contributing to a rise in these conditions.

One of the lead researchers, Professor Hywel Williams, from the University of Nottingham, told BootsWebMD by email: "The data is not strong enough to claim a causal relationship, but it contributes to a collective body of evidence that fast foods might have some drawbacks in modern society."

Large international study

The findings are based on data from more than 319,000 13-14 year olds from 51 countries, and more than 181,000 six to seven year olds from 31 countries.

All the participants were involved in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), which is a research project involving more than 100 countries and nearly two million children.

The teens’ and the children's parents were formally quizzed on their weekly diet and whether they had symptoms of asthma ( wheeze); rhinoconjunctivitis (which produces a runny or blocked nose accompanied by itchy and watery eyes); and eczema.

Questions focused particularly on the severity of symptoms over the preceding 12 months and on certain types of food already linked to protective or damaging effects on health including meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts, milk, eggs, and fast food/burgers.

Consumption was categorised as never; occasionally; once or twice a week; and three or more times a week.


After taking account of factors likely to influence the results, the analysis showed that three or more weekly servings of fast food were linked to a 39% increased risk of severe asthma among teens and a 27% increased risk among children, as well as to the severity of rhinitis and eczema, overall.

Professor Hywel Williams told us he wasn't surprised to find such a strong link between symptoms and fast food:"Not totally surprised as there was already some literature suggesting a possible link between "good" foods such as the Mediterranean diet being protective of asthma, hay fever and eczema, and possible harm of fast foods.

"Three things surprised me with the global data we analysed (i) the associations between fast foods and allergic diseases were only really convincing for severe disease and (ii) the magnitude of the increased risk (30%) was larger than I expected and (iii) the associations were remarkable consistent at both ages, and in different Regions of the world and also held for differences in affluence and sex."

So, does he think parents with a child with asthma or eczema should be concerned if their child has an occasional fast food meal?: "Probably not, and sentencing all allergic children to a ban on fast foods would only serve to discriminate against an already impaired quality of life for many. All we can really suggest from this data is that consuming fast foods at least three times a week increase the risk of having severe asthma, hay fever or eczema by around 30%."

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