What has caused the rise of peanut and strawberry allergies among children in the 21st century?We have a lot of children at school suddenly becoming allergic to peanuts and strawberries and I hear...

What has caused the rise of peanut and strawberry allergies among children in the 21st century?

We have a lot of children at school suddenly becoming allergic to peanuts and strawberries and I hear now that this is an across-the-board problem to the point of trying to making "no peanut zones" at schools. What could have possibly caused this sudden sensitivity when back in the day PBJ (strawberry jam, at that) WAS the food of rigour. Is it pesticides? Is it the use of peanut oil everywhere? What do you think?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While researchers say the cause for the rises in anaphylactic causing food allergies is unknown, one speculated cause is the increase in genetically modified organisms/foods (GMOs). Peanut allergies are NOT a world-wide phenomenon. many countries eat peanuts as the staple food of their diets, like Southeast Asian countries and West African countries. Research in 2010 shows that peanut allergies have doubled since 1999 while research released in 2012:

"Peanut allergy diagnoses among children residing in Olmsted County, Minnesota" The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Volume 130, Issue 4 , Pages 945-950, October 2012

finds that the number of peanut allergies have tripled from 2.05 per 10,000 to 6.88 per 10,000 children. The October 2012 study was concluded in 2007 though findings were not finalized and reported till 2012, thus the ensuing five years may have modified the numbers even further.

While strawberry allergy hasn't got as much research on the Internet, it is included on the list of growing anaphylaxis causing allergies. While the cause of the increase in potentially fatal food allergies (anaphylaxis is potentially fatal, especially in small children, as anaphylaxis drives the body's vital systems to complete shut down, moving it "toward death") in children is unknown, the CDC is exploring how diet in varying parts of the world contributes to the "gut flora" found in children. The CDC is speculating that diet and lessened bacterial exposures are linked to the increase in food allergies (one study did confirm that children with outdoor dogs were less likely to develop habitat related allergies).

Other groups' speculation about the role of GMO foods fits in with the diet element of the CDC's investigations as organisms slpiced into the DNA code would alter "gut flora." One thing is certain: all avenues of health reporting, health monitoring, and health investigation agree that potentially fatal childhood food allergies to peanuts and other foods are doubled and, in some locales, tripled. It must be stressed that since these allergies have increased and are lab-confirmed diagnoses, and since they are potentially fatal, they must be treated with all due caution even if that means safe "zones" in schools.

CNN: Why Are Food Allergies on the Rise?

Genetically Modified Foods May Pose Serious health Risks

Food Allergy Facts and Statistics, FoodAllergy.org

Peanut allergy diagnoses among children residing in Olmsted County, Minnesota


litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have often wondered this.  I am not sure about strawberries, but I know that a lot of things are made with peanuts or on the same equipment as those of peanuts.  It makes sense then that people who might not have been exposed to peanuts before now will be.  If I had a child allergic to peanuts, I think I would live my life in terror!

Peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. ... It isn't known exactly why some people become allergic to peanuts and others don't. (see Mayo Clinic, second link)

Some people think that vaccinations are causing these allergies.  It is a logical reason, but there is some controversy about it (http://www.opposingviews.com/i/the-peanut-allergy-epidemic-is-a-man-made-epidemic-caused-by-vaccinations).  There has also been found links to breastfeeding (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/breastfeeding-nut-allergies_n_1680473.html) .  Some people even claim that there are not nearly as many allergies as people think (http://www.enotes.com/health/discuss/what-has-caused-rise-peanut-strawberry-allerg-121937).

This is bound to remain a mystery!

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a teacher in a public school in a rural area, I noticed in recent years that children's immune systems were certainly more compromised than in years past.  As mentioned above, there is the phobia of children being exposed to bacteria, an exposure that may in fact, allow their immune systems to develop. For instance, many parents constantly wipe hand santizer on the child's hands, an act against which doctors protest often because good bacteria goes with the bad. Recently, on television one pedatrician explained why he allowed his child to crawl around his house, and did not worry about the baby getting his dirty fingers in his mouth, either.

Certainly, parents in my area are very quick to obtain antibiotics for their children rather than letting their offspring struggle through the illness if it is not serious.  However, it is a fact that studies have shown that children who suffer through minor illinesses with little or no medication are healthier as young adults and adults since they have developed immunities on their own.


belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Allergies are not the same as disease; as #3 correctly points out, allergies are the body's natural immune response to something incorrectly identified as foreign or threatening. A very common response to peanut allergies is anaphylaxis, which can be deadly if untreated; peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies in the world, which means that minor cases may be undiagnosed for a long time. My suspicion is that better medical diagnoses around the world means that even minor allergies may be identified and diagnosed instead of being ignored; this means that although the actual prevalence of the allergy may be the same as in previous years, it may seem to be on the rise because of better diagnosis techniques and medical information. This is not a minor issue, though; since peanut allergies can be fatal, it is far better to err on the side of caution rather than risk anaphylactic shock.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am inclined to agree with post #4 that the seeming rise in allergies may just be a response to overall more accessible health care in identifying children's allergies.  Moreover, parents across the board have more information and resources at their fingertips than ever.  As more and more parents are informed about how to protect their children's health more effectively at school, teachers see the rise in more and more safe-guards and protective policies like 'peanut free zones.'  There is even a parent at my school who has demanded that all students and faculty not be allowed to wear cologne or perfume because the student has hyper-sensitivity to smells and develops headaches.  Schools want to accomodate students' health needs and more than that, are bound by the law to do so.  I predict that we will see a continued rise in student health issues as long as parents have access to the internet.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I sort of feel like all we can do is speculate.  If the scientists don’t know then we laypeople have no chance. 

As an aging curmudgeon, I feel like it is caused by the way in which we coddle children and try to protect them from everything.  It seems to me that we try to ensure that they live in these germ-free environments rather than letting them get dirty like kids used to in our day.  Of course, I don’t have any evidence to back this up.  I just feel that by protecting kids too much we might be weakening their resistance to various things.  Now, is that something that can even lead to allergies?  I don’t know.  I fully realize that I’m just speculating and that I am basing my speculation on biased perceptions of our society.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I am no scientist, I would suggest that food allergies are on the rise based upon the pesticides used to "insure" healthy crops. Decades ago, we were a healthier and stockier people. With the rise of antibacterial gels, wipes, and the frenzy to disinfect everything, our bodies no longer have to work as they did before.

While this may not be scientifically proven, I feel as though we have allowed specific parts of our bodies to lie dormant, while we sanitize everything for it. By doing this, we are allowing these systems to become weaker. Weaker systems mean that we get sick easier and have different problems (more allergies) than previously.

Just my opinion, no science.

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