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Food allergies in 4 years olds “remarkably high”

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Almost half of all kids will experience some form of allergy by four years old, according to latest research

The number of Australian children who outgrow egg allergy has contributed to a drop in the overall rate of food allergies in children aged one to four years, according to latest research by the Australian Centre of Food and Allergy Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI).

However despite this drop there continues to be “remarkably high” rates of any allergic disease in children, say the researchers.

Their study of 5276 children recruited at age one has shown the prevalence of challenge-confirmed food allergy reduced from 11% at age one to 3.8% at age four.

Resolution of egg allergy was the main driver of this change, dropping from 9.5% to 1.2%.

While prevalence of peanut allergy also fell from 3.1% to 1.9%, it was still the most prevalent food allergy in four-year-old children.

The study also measured the prevalence of asthma, eczema and hayfever in four year olds, said lead author Dr Rachel Peters from the MCRI.

Asthma prevalence was 10.8%, eczema was 16% and hayfever 8.3%.

“Overall, 40-50% of this population-based cohort experienced symptoms of any allergic disease in the first four years of their life,” Dr Peters said.

“Although the prevalence of food allergy decreased between ages one and four, the prevalence of any allergic disease among four-year-old children is still remarkably high.”

Interim results of the study revealed more than 10% of participants had a confirmed food allergy at age one.

This is higher than reports from other countries, which ranged from 1-5%, earning Australia the unfortunate title of “food allergy capital of the world”.

Senior author Professor Katie Allen said the study results were among the most robust in the world as they derived from a large sample size, a high response rate from participants, and the gold-standard oral food challenges to measure allergies.

She said a rise in asthma, eczema and hayfever, peaking in the 1990s-2000s, has been followed by a second wave of the allergy epidemic with an increase in reported food allergies over the last two decades.

“Allergies are now recognised as a significant public health concern,” said Professor Allen.