We all know about the connection between fast food consumption and the epidemic rates of obesity in children and adults worldwide. There is also an undeniable link between fast food and a myriad of other health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer and the enormous impact these conditions have on the healthcare system. But now there is new evidence that fast food (burgers to be specific) could be guilty of another serious charge…increased rates of asthma, eczema and rhinitis (commonly known as a runny nose) in children and adolescents.
The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), is a collaborative research project led by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, which over a twenty-year period involved more than 100 countries and nearly two million children, making it the largest study of its kind to date. The focus of the study was on the severity of symptoms among the subjects over the preceding 12 months – including frequency, and interference with daily life and/or sleep patterns – and on certain types of food that had already been linked to protective or damaging effects on overall health. These foods included meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, cereals, bread and pasta, rice, butter, margarine, nuts, potatoes, milk, eggs, and fast food/burgers. Participants were asked to rate their consumption of each of these foods to one of the following categories: They were consumed 1) never; 2) occasionally; 3) once or twice a week; and 4) three or more times a week.
The results are…
After taking account of factors likely to influence results, the analysis showed that fast food was the only food type to show the same associations across both age groups. Three or more weekly servings of fast food burgers were linked to a 39 percent increase in risk of severe asthma among teenagers and a 27 percent increase in risk among children, as well as being linked to the severity of rhinitis and eczema overall.
Well-Being spoke to Gailen D. Marshall, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., and director of clinical immunology and allergy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center about the implications of the ISAAC study.
“First, it’s important to realize we can’t attach direct cause and effect to the connection between fast food and the increased risk or incidence of asthma, eczema or rhinitis,” Dr. Marshall explains. “There are just too many other factors that come into play. But we do know that the greater frequency with which a child’s diet includes what we typically consider fast food, such as hamburgers, French fries, and sugary drinks, the more likely the child is to have a number of potential health problems, including a higher risk of those conditions identified in the ISAAC study. Often children who consume fast food three or more times a week also have a less than ideal diet in general. Part of what we should take away from this study is how important it is for children to have a nutrient-rich, low-fat diet. When fast food is the exception in a child’s diet, not the rule, the benefits of good nutrition, help to protect against the negative impact of an occasional burger and fries.”
The good news is…
Fortunately, the study also determined that eating three or more servings of fruit a week had a protective effect on asthma, eczema and rhinitis, on both participating children and adolescents. Eating three or more weekly portions also was linked to a reduction in symptom severity of between 11 percent and 14 percent among teens and children, respectively. The authors suggest there are plausible explanations for the findings: fast food contains high levels of saturated and trans-fatty acids, which are known to affect immunity, while fruit is rich in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds The authors emphasize that their results do not prove cause and effect, but they do warrant further investigation.
The research from The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), was published online in the respiratory journal, Thorax. The two principal authors, Professor Innes Asher and Philippa Ellwood, both from The University of Auckland’s Department of Pediatrics: Child and Youth Health, agree that the findings could have huge implications for public health.