‘Unfortunately, Australia does appear to be the food allergy capital of the world with Melbourne leading the way,’ allergist Katie Allen of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said at the International Congress of Immunology conference on Monday. She added that ‘the further from the equator you live, the higher the risk of food allergy.’ Melbourne’s latitude is 37°48′50″ S below the equator, and as a result, the cooler climate and lack of exposure to sunlight have led to a Vitamin D deficiency in children.
Other contributing factors supporting the spread of allergens include the reluctance of Australian parents to introduce a variety of food groups, including nuts and dairy, into an infant’s diet. Professor Allen said that these foods should be ‘introduced in the first year of life soon after solids are commenced,’ before adding that ‘the introduction early is not only safe, it looks like it’s protective.’
Published in May 2016 by the Australia’s Centre for Food & Allergy Research, the Infant Feeding Guidelines now recommends introducing ‘peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life,’ but not before four months.
Research has shown that the other key issue is germophobia and that preventing children from participating in everyday activities, including getting muddy in the backyard with siblings and playing with the family dog, is actually harmful to their immune systems. Children exposed to these sorts of ‘microbes in the right form’ are less likely to develop allergies. It has to be said that the rise of allergies is associated with the ever-growing popularity of social media and computer games, and children who play inside and stare at screens all day are at risk. In comparison, adults who grew up playing backyard cricket, climbing trees and collecting bugs are less likely to have developed allergies. Professor Hamida Hammad from Ghent University in Belgium found that children exposed to dust found on farms produced a protein called A20 in lung epithelial cells which contributes to the prevention of ‘allergy, hay fever, and asthma.’
Exposure to farm environments has proven so effective in averting allergies and asthma that Europe day centres are now set up within farms to expose toddlers ‘to hay and cattle,’ Professor Hammad said.