Who's to blame for the food allergy boom?

Food allergies on the rise in children, experts say

ORLANDO, Fla. - There are over 15 million Americans with a known food allergy.

"It is definitely a disease that is much more rampant now than 50 years ago," said Dr.  Shaista Safder, a gastroenterologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Dr. Safder said there are three prevailing theories as to why so many more children have food allergies. The first, she says, is that we live in such a clean and sanitary society that the normal bacteria that helps our bodies is decreasing.

She said that the prevalence of processed foods in our diets is another explanation.

Finally, she said that it is often anecdotally reported that what mother's eat during pregnancy could have an effect on the allergies of their child. It's an explanation given for children who develop severe allergies at a very young age.

Tristan Chan is one of Sadfer's patients that experienced problems with food allergies since birth.

The boy is now 3 years old and he has to be fed through a feeding tube to get his nutrients. Since he is allergic to just about everything, Sadfer is not sure what caused him to develop the disease.

Tristan has a disorder called Eosinophilic Esophagitis, an inflammatory condition in the esophagus that causes the throat to almost completely swell and in some cases can cause psoriasis, eczema and even breathing conditions like asthma.

"What he eats is very limited because of his allergies. If you have a an anaflaxic reaction to certain food products it's life threatening," said Dr. Sadfer.

Sadfer said cases of EE are becoming more and more common. She urges parents to look out for eczema flare-ups on their children because they could be the first stages of a food allergy or this specific condition.

So many Americans have issues with food allergies that theme parks like Walt Disney World and SeaWorld are catering to the special dietary needs.

In the new 'Be Our Guest' restaurant at Fanatasyland, guests can enter special dietary needs into kiosks so chefs can specifically cater to their needs.

In SeaWorld's kitchens chefs utilize special utensils to make sure allergens like wheat, soy, egg, peanut, tree nut, dairy , fish and shellfish.

Central Florida school districts are having to cater to these needs as well.  In Seminole and Orange counties, the district's food services staff prepare hundreds of meals a day for students with specific dietary needs.

A spokesperson for Seminole County Schools Food Service said the number of specialty meal requests has doubled in the last two years.

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