Peanut allergies on the rise in New Zealand

Posted on: Thu, 11/18/2004 - 12:39am
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Childhood food allergies increasing
18 November 2004

Barb Britten watched in horror as her two-year-old son, his face swollen and mucus pouring from his nose, began projectile vomiting. The toddler complained his tongue was in his throat and then she saw a rash visibly moving up his back.

Jonte Britten was suffering a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to a peanut butter cracker he had eaten less than an hour earlier, and was rushed to hospital for treatment.

Now four, Jonte is amongst a growing number of children suffering from food allergies. He runs the risk of a dangerous reaction from the slightest contact with certain foods.

His parents take food labelling seriously and would like to see improvements.

Britten, now the Christchurch co-ordinator for Allergy New Zealand, said that, despite tighter labelling laws, hidden dangers remained.

When she phoned a chip manufacturer to ask if the vegetable oil listed was a peanut oil they refused to tell her, citing commercial confidentiality.

Up to 8 per cent of New Zealand children suffer from food allergy, the most common being peanuts, soy, dairy, wheat and eggs. About one-third will outgrow their allergies, although only about 20% of those allergic to peanuts will do so.

Medics have been at a loss to explain the rapid rise in the numbers suffering food allergies in developed countries, in particular peanut allergies. Before 1990 they were rare. By 1996 one in 200 children in Britain were allergic and by 2002 this had risen to one in 70.

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