What’s driving the recent rise in food allergies?
The answer may lie with our modern lifestyle. Our lives are becoming increasingly sedentary and less active. This is leading to a decline in physical activity levels and a rise in stress levels which can lead to a variety of health problems such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), depression, anxiety disorders and even suicide.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in America. And it’s not just Americans who are suffering from these rising rates; other countries have been experiencing similar increases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is now the third most common cause of death worldwide after cancer and stroke.
As a result of this trend, the CDC recently released a report stating that “the number of children aged 0–14 years diagnosed with food allergy increased by 23% between 2008 and 2013. Among children in this age group, food allergy has increased by 18% among boys and 26% among girls.”
The report also states that “African Americans have a 30% higher rate of asthma, are 60% more likely to have had pneumonia, and are almost two times as likely to have had a heart attack before the age of 55 compared with European Americans. American Indians and Alaskan natives have a twofold higher rate of Type 2 diabetes mellitus compared with European Americans. These groups also have higher rates of food allergy affecting at least one in five individuals.”
Allergies, asthma, and many other conditions are complex diseases and there is no single factor that can be attributed to all cases. In some cases, as in the case of suicide and self-harm, there are mental health issues that may be at play. However, what we are seeing is that many of these diseases do have lifestyle factors that can increase risk and they are often interlinked.
So what can be done to address theses issues and help reduce the incidence of these diseases?
Simple measures like ensuring our children get enough sleep, reducing stress in our lives, getting some form of daily exercise, eating healthily, avoiding smoking and harmful substances, and managing conditions like diabetes and depression should be steps taken to not only reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases but also to improve the mental well-being of individuals.
Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle often does not lend itself to adopting these healthy measures. For instance, in the case of children and teenagers, they have been found to sleep on average of less than nine hours per day with many adolescents getting as little as five hours per night. This has been linked to a rise in obesity among children so encouraging healthy sleeping habits from a young age is an important step in avoiding lifestyle diseases.
Of course, there is no one single factor that leads to obesity and a rise in childhood obesity has been attributed to many factors such as high sugar diets, the consumption of snacks between meals, lack of physical activity and in some cases genetic predisposition. However, one thing that has been shown to be a factor in reducing weight gain is eating frequent low-calorie meals as opposed to three large meals a day.
In fact, it has been found that eating six times a day, where each meal consists of a low-calorie salad, fruits or vegetables causes low to moderate weight loss and can also prevent the weight gain associated with aging. This type of diet has also been shown to improve mental well-being and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Of course, these types of diet need to be complemented with regular exercise. Although it is important to note that excessive exercise can also lead to various medical conditions and should be managed appropriately with supervision.
There are simple measures individuals can take to reduce their risk of lifestyle diseases, but it is also important for local and national governments to take steps in reducing the likelihood of these diseases occurring through public policy. Obesity has been linked to many health issues and reducing sugar intake, portion control and taxing unhealthy foods have all been proposed as ways in which to reduce the prevalence of obesity.
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